If medals were awarded for Olympic pedigree, Zana Evans would be top of the podium.
Her father, Anthony Evans, competed for Australia at the 1992, 1994 and 1998 Olympic Winter Games in cross-country skiing. During those years on the international winter sports circuit he kept bumping into Carla Zijlstra, a speed skater who represented the Netherlands at the same three Games.
“It took a while,” admits Anthony, but eventually the two became a couple and were married. And more than 20 years after their last Olympic appearance, they travelled from their base in Jindbayne (Australia) to watch their 15-year-old daughter Zana compete at the 3rd Winter Youth Olympic Games (YOG). But in which sport?
“I actually haven’t done much speed skating!” says Zana, laughing. “We grew up in the mountains, so cross-country skiing, or skiing in general, was kind of an obvious choice from the beginning.”
Born and raised in the Olympic spirit
Zana grew up half an hour from Perisher Valley, one of Australia’s top Alpine resorts, and for as long as she can remember her family holidays were usually spent on skis.
“Zana didn’t really have a choice, but I think she liked it!” says Carla. “Our other daughter, who is 14, liked it too but is more of an Alpine skier, and she was in Colorado (USA) during Lausanne 2020 for some training… So we are everywhere! But it’s always been a fun way of spending our time together.”
Anthony chimes in: “It’s a bit sad that we don’t really have family holidays now – we’re either in Europe or North America! But the conditions in Australia are really good. People think there’s no snow there, but we have good snow from July to September. It really complements the European winter as well, as we can do some training and preparation back home first.”
This was just Zana’s second competition overseas, but she was delighted with the results: 37th in the 5km individual, 46th in the sprint and 41st in cross-country cross. It left her keen to follow in the footsteps of her parents and become an Olympian one day.
“It’s a pretty big step in the right direction, and I think that’s what matters,” she says. “The experience and the positive memories from the YOG have definitely contributed to the bigger picture of one day skiing at the Olympic Winter Games.”
Her mother agrees.
“It was great to watch her,” she said. “Yes, I was a little bit nervous, but I think it’s such a great experience. She’s so young, so there was nothing too serious at stake at really. You just want to enjoy it and have a good experience, and not get caught up with nerves.
“That was the message from all the senior athletes back in Australia as well. They made a really nice little video encouraging the team to enjoy the moment, be in it and learn from it. Everything was like a mini version of the Olympic Winter Games, but it was amazingly organised and Zana couldn’t have a better preparation [for the Olympic Winter Games].”
Zana’s parents weren’t the only Olympians watching their child from the sidelines at Vallée de Joux either. The USA’s Will Koch won a bronze in the men’s individual event in front of his father Bill, an Olympic medallist and pioneer in the sport. But what’s it like to grow up with elite athletes for parents?
“Sport was always there, and it was always made fun,” Zana explains. “There’s not much more that you can really ask for than being out on the slopes.
“A lot of the stuff that I’ve learned has come from my parents, and it’s good to have that in the back of your head, so that you can use it when you need a little something extra. It’s great to have them there for advice and support.”
Perhaps that something extra could one day be used to push her up the final hill in an Olympic cross-country race. But for her father, it’s the journey rather than the end destination that is the most important thing.
“For Carla and me, sport has brought so many positive memories, and had such a positive impact on our lives,” he says. “So it’s great to give that opportunity to our children. Whether they want to go and become senior elite athletes is secondary; it’s just such a positive experience.”