A couple of weeks back, we dove into the Winter Olympic sports to determine which was the most difficult. One sport we didn’t talk about in that write-up was the biathlon. In order to try and make up for that oversight on my part by talking about the biathlon rules and origin. We’ll kick off by looking into the history of this sport.
Unsurprisingly, a sport made up of both cross-country skiing and rifle shooting comes from a cold locale. The sport of biathlon draws its roots in Scandinavia, where cross-country skiing as a method of transportation was common in the cold winter months. With the addition of firearms to life up North, it was only natural that folks would take up hunting with rifles on skis.
With skiing and shooting becoming a part of everyday Scandinavian life, it made sense that the militaries of the nations would rapidly adopt ski units as protection. From there, competitions would begin popping up as early as 1767. Skiing and shooting would continue to be a part of military training, with competitions being held – a trend that continued until the debut of a precursor of biathlon at the Olympics in 1924. The sport called “Military Patrol” laid the groundwork. However, Biathlon as we know it wouldn’t make its Olympic debut until 1960. Since then, biathlon has been a crucial part of the Winter Olympics.
As mentioned above in the origin, a biathlon is a race that features both cross-country skiing and rifle shooting. Competitors compete on a cross-country trail course with the distance divided by either two or four shooting rounds. Half of these shooting rounds will be completed prone (laying down) and the other half will be completed standing. Each shooting round requires the biathlete to hit five targets. Failure to hit a target results in a penalty such as completing a penalty loop or having a minute added to the total time.
There are some other variables to consider such as the start – interval, pursuit, and mass (like the one above) starts are all possible. The rifle must be carried on the back with the barrel pointed upward, a general common sense firearm safety rule. As expected with the biathlon being a race, the winner is the participant with the quickest time.
Biathlons require incredible physical conditioning as well as precise marksmanship. To be able to perform well in shooting while fatigued from cross-country skiing, athletes must fight through physical exhaustion with mental focus and clarity. When I watch the biathlon at the Olympics, I can’t help but think about my own experiences in target shooting. I’m barely able to hit targets when rested. These athletes are incredibly accurate after pushing their bodies to the limit, an admirable feat. Though the biathlon season is over until next Winter, it is safe to say I’ll be tuning in when the season rolls back around.