A look at Biathlon..

In honor of the 2014 Winter Olympics getting underway, I thought I would re-posting my article on Biathlon. Of note, keep an eye out for #twinbiathlete Lanny Barnes. If you are not familiar to Ms. Barnes journey to the Sochi Olympics, do yourself a favor and read up on her and her twin sister Tracey!

Before we know it, the 2014 Olympic Games will be starting in Sochi Russia. One of the most under-rated events is also one of my favorite Olympic sports to watch… the Biathlon!

Biathlon combines cross-country skiing with rifle shooting. I am in complete envy of A) Anyone who cross-country skis, I tried it once… it was not for me! B) Anyone who can accurately shoot a rifle while cross-country skiing! “Biathletes” are amazingly talented and fit athletes.

The physical demands of this Olympic Sport are far above what we would experience in the woods.

The physical demands of this Olympic Sport are far above what we would experience in the woods.

They must maintain top physical shape, superior cross-country skiing skills, and be an expert marksman. What is not to love about the sport of Biathlon!

The Biathlon originated as a training exercise for Norwegian soldiers. It was demonstrated in the 1928, 1936, and the 1948 Olympic games, but it did not gain official recognition until several years later because the small number of countries competing in Biathlon could not agree on the rules.

Getting ready for the shot.

Getting ready for the shot.

According to www.teamUSA.org, the U.S. Biathlon Team has never been in a better position for success in Olympic competition as it will be for the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi Russia.

Olympic Biathlon consists of five separate and different events. Both combine cross-country skiing, and shooting a small-bore rifle. Early Biathlons used high-powered military rifles; however, in 1978 the .22lr became the international standard. Today’s rifles must weigh a minimum of 7.7 pounds, be bolt-action, and have mechanical sights. Optics are not allowed.

The weapon of choice for Team USA.

The weapon of choice for Team USA.
The events are defined as follows:
  • Individual: The Individual biathlon race covers 20 kilometers of skiing for men, 15 kilometers of skiing for women, with 4 shooting stages in each discipline. The 1st and 3rd shooting stages are shot in the prone position. The 2nd and 4th are shot in the standing position. The total targets shot during Individual is 20. The Individual is the oldest biathlon event.
  • Sprint: The Sprint event is similar but shorter than the Individual event. For the men, they will be skiing 10 kilometers, while the women will ski 7.5 kilometers. In Sprint, there are 2 shooting sections, 1 prone, 1 standing, for a total of 10 targets. If a target is missed, the athlete is assessed a penalty of skiing an additional 150 meter loop, for each target missed.
  • Pursuit: The Pursuit event staggers the athletes starting position, based on their times from Sprint race. Whoever crosses the finish line first is declared the winner. The distance skied for men is 12.5 kilometers, while it is 10 kilometers for the women. Like the Individual, there are 4 shooting stages, 2 prone, 2 standing, to be shot in that order.
  • Mass Start: For the Mass Start event, all athletes start at the same time, and the first one across the finish line wins. The men ski 15 kilometers and the women ski 12.5 kilometers. There are 4 shooting sections in the following order: 2 prone, 2 standing. Again, competitors are assessed a 150 meter penalty loop for each miss.
  • Relay Competition: In Relay, teams consist of 4 biathletes. Each man skis 7.5 kilometers, while each woman skis 6 kilometers. There are 2 shooting sections for each team member, 1 prone, 1 standing. There are 5 targets, with 8 bullets available. The last 3 bullets, if needed, must be loaded manually, one at a time. If after all 8 bullets are fired and not all targets have been hit, there is a 150 meter penalty loop assessed for each miss. In the first leg of the relay, the biathletes start together. After the first competitor for the team completes his/her round, he must touch the next participant on his team before that biathlete can set off on their leg of the race.

Shooting from the Prone position.

Shooting from the Prone position.

Sometimes it can be hard enough (even in a small local competition) to focus and squeeze off a good shot with all of the pressure that you feel during a competition. Add to that the heart pounding physical stress of skiing 10+ kilometers cross country; then stop, aim and fire. I am in absolute awe of the physical ability and mental toughness our Olympic Biathletes have in order to compete at the Olympic level.

Do yourself a favor and familiarize yourself with the United States Biathlon Team, and support them by watching their coverage when it airs. As a shooter, you will be in awe of their skills. Go Team U.S.A!

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