AU at the Olympics

Contributed by Patricia Balderston of AU's The Insider

When the Olympics get underway next month in Italy there will be a number of AU students competing. Once such competitor is Sandra Keith(, biathlete and Bachelor of Commerce student, who is currently in Europe undergoing final preparations:

How long have you been competing in biathlon?

I started cross-country skiing when I was two years old! I grew up in Ottawa and did several cross-country ski races in that area when I was young. At the age of 12 my family moved to Calgary and it was then that I gave biathlon a try. I competed in both biathlon and cross-country ski races for a few years, until my parents said that I would have to pick one of the sports (the racing schedules for both sports were getting to be too much!). My first international biathlon competition was the World Junior Championships when I was 16.

Why that sport?

I really enjoy the diversity of shooting with cross-country skiing. The two sports require such different skill sets. There’s always something specific to work on in training, and there’s always something unpredictable … that happens in races. (Check out the Biathlon Canada website (

What is your training schedule like?

Our National Team trains 11 months of the year together. April is our month off. We train twice a day (usually 8:00 to 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 to 6:00 p.m.), six days a week. I get a pretty funny response from the Business Call Centre “operator” when I call to ask a course question and I tell them that I’m available from 12:00 to 3:00 and after 6:00 p.m. (they’re probably thinking to themselves, “what on earth kind of job gives you 12:00 to 3:00 off!!!”).

Why did you pick AU?

I was already on the junior Canadian Biathlon Team when I graduated from high school (the National Sports School in Calgary) in 1998. My parents were extremely supportive of my biathlon pursuits, however if I wanted to maintain that support it was a “rule” that I also had to continue to pursue my education.

Sandra pursued studies at the University of Waterloo and the University of Calgary but then :

After a year at the U of C I changed my mind once again. That year was probably the most stressful year of my life, to date. The time pressures I had from a full-time training schedule and a lot of travelling for training camps and competitions combined with a mandatory schedule from a “real” university was almost impossible to handle.

That’s when I took a look back at the options I had with correspondence courses. I had really enjoyed the Commerce courses I took at U of C, and in the research I did of various correspondence universities and the degrees they offered (including schools in the USA), Athabasca offered the greatest variety of courses in obtaining a Commerce degree.

In addition, I couldn’t take courses from a university with strict term start and finish dates, or specific assignment deadlines (as with U of Waterloo and other correspondence universities). I know that in “real life” you have to learn to work with deadlines, however in the “real life” I’m leading right now, deadlines are impossible. If we’re racing in the middle of nowhere in Slovakia and I have a deadline to fax an assignment in, I’m 99% sure I would never find a fax machine!

Why did you choose Bachelor of Commerce? What are your aspirations once you are done your sporting career?

When I made the Canadian Biathlon Team I started to do a lot of work to find some personal sponsors from major corporations. Finding sponsors is basically all about marketing yourself. In addition, most of the corporations I approached directed me straight to their marketing department or external marketing firm, thus I started to work with a lot of employees in the marketing industry. I really enjoyed learning about what drives a corporation to choose a certain marketing strategy, and I enjoyed trying to market myself in a way that would suit a particular company’s interests.

Is this your first Olympics? Yes.

In what other international events have you competed?

I competed in four World Junior Championships when I was under 20 years old. Then I started competing as a senior on the World Cup circuit. I’ve raced at numerous World Cups, I’ve been to three World Championships, and two FISU World University Games.

My best World Cup result is 26th place (there’s usually over 100 competitors). And my best result at the FISU World University Games was a 10th place at the 2003 Games (this was Canada’s best-ever biathlon result at FISU Games).

What does it mean to you to represent your country?

To be honest, the thing I like the most about representing my country is when I’m walking or jogging down a street in a foreign country, as soon as I pass a group of people I know that they’ve turned around in interest because you can hear them say “Ahhh, Kanada”… there’s a maple leaf and “Canada” printed on the back of all of our jackets!

At the end of a long day of training and/or competing do you and your teammates ever sit around and share AU stories?

The most vivid memory I have of everyone working on their AU courses together is when we’re at a training camp on the Haig Glacier. It’s in Kananaskis Country where the Calgary Olympic Development Association (CODA) has set up three huts and runs training camps for elite cross-country skiers and biathletes. After a long morning of skiing on the glacier and a big lunch, everyone pulls out their textbooks and starts working away.

The only other anecdote I can think of is the fact that whenever our coach complains that our bags are too heavy or we have too much stuff, we always blame it on our AU textbooks! I’m taking a taxation course right now with a massive textbook, and one of my teammates on the World Cup tour is taking an art history course with an even bigger hard cover text … so we have plenty of excuses for our heavy bags!!

Watch for profiles of other AU athletes.

AU students want to root for all of our AU athletes at this year’s Olympic games. If you are an Olympic athlete who attends AU, please write us at so we can follow your progress in February.

%d bloggers like this: