With the Sochi Winter Olympic Games right around the corner, I thought it might be fun to learn about an often overlooked winter multi-sport event: the Biathlon.
The word biathlon is of Greek origin and means “two tests”. In this case, the two tests are skiing and shooting. The sport has its roots in snow-covered Scandinavia where an important survival skill was the ability to hunt on skis with a rifle slung over the shoulder.
A form of biathlon appeared at the first Olympic Winter Games in 1924 as a team event called the military ski patrol. The military ski patrol would also be a demonstration event at St. Moritz 1928, Garmisch-Partenkirchen 1936 and St. Moritz 1948, the same year the rules for biathlon were standardized. Biathlon would make its official Olympic debut at the 1960 Winter Games in Squaw Valley. Women would compete in Olympic biathlon for the first time at Albertville 1992. There are now five events each for men and women as well as a mixed relay which will make its debut at Sochi 2014.
The sport makes unique demands on biathletes’ bodies. After skiing fast and hard in cross-country free technique, biathletes must calm themselves to take accurate and controlled shots at targets 50 metres away. The target size depends on whether the athlete is in the prone or standing position. In the prone position, the hit area is 45 mm while in the standing position the hit area is 115 mm. (source)
I find that last part interesting, because cross-country skiing is an endurance sport (and a tough one at that), the other half of the sport demands an entirely different skill set. Mental focus, hard-eye coordination and such are really hard to achieve when your heart is pounding its way out of your chest (I used to have a video game in the early PC days called Winter Games; in the biathlon the targeting sight used to bounce up and down faster depending on how hard you had skied). Missing targets incurs time penalties, so you can undo the hard work done by fast skiing.
I’I've noticed that there isn't much cross-country skiing going on in Southern Ontario due to lack of consistent snow, so adding the complication and expenses of firearms and the safety protocols doesn’t make the sport very accessible to local youth, though having seen youth in training at Highlands Nordic in Duntroon makes me hope that things are different in Central and Northern Ontario.
I’m not a youth, but the responsibility of storing a firearm safely still makes my interest in biathlon purely academic (but if I did want to get certified, I’d go to Guide To Game). It got me thinking, what if you substituted a bow (and arrows) for a rifle? I’d feel a little safer about that... I think the potential for accidents with a bow is probably a lot less. Well somebody already came up with Bowathlon it turns out... only they've subbed cross-country running for skiing. The other problem is that the site hasn't been updated in over 10 years, but I still like knowing there are other people pursuing the Multi-sport Mind out there...
Have tried Biathlon? Would you? What about Bowathlon? Any other crazy combinations you could come up with?