Biathlon is a fascinating winter sport that combines two very different disciplines: cross-country skiing and rifle shooting.
In a biathlon, athletes race on cross- country skis around a closed course, carry a small calibre rifle on their backs. These rifles are specially designed for biathlon with lightweight stocks. They are also equipped with special sights to aid accuracy. During the race, athletes will stop at designated areas to shoot at targets. The shooting rounds are not timed, but athletes only have a set number of bullets. Depending on the competition, missed shots may result in a penalty lap around a 150m loop or time being added to the athletes total. The number of shooting areas can also vary depending on the distance of the course. The shooting segments can occur either in the standing position or lying on your stomach.
Biathlon is a timed events where the quickest finish means victory. However, its not all about being fast. Accuracy matters as well.
Biathlon originated as a military training exercise in Scandinavia, particularly in Norway, where it was a means to train soldiers on the 18th century. In the 19th century, biathlon began to take shape as a sport with organised competitions. It was initially known as “military patrol”. These early competition were primarily focused on practical skills needed by soldiers. The first recorded civilian biathlon competition took place in Norway in 1861. This event marked the beginning of biathlon as a competition sport beyond military training.
Biathlon made it’s official debut in the Winter Olympics in 1924 in Chamonix, France but only as a demonstration event at the time. It only became a regular part of the Winter Games in 1960 in Squaw Valley, USA.
Biathlon has been an event in the World Transplant Winter Games since the inaugural Games in Tignes, France in 1994. Transplant recipients from eighteen countries took part in this first Winter Games.
Biathlon races are enjoyable and exciting. The sport promotes a healthy lifestyle and because it is low impact, athletes can participate well into old age. There is also a very low injury rate in Biathlon.
Biathlon has all the health and fitness advantages of cross-country skiing – burning calories; increasing flexibility whilst engaging the core; strengthening the quads, hamstrings, calves, and glutes; working the arms and upper body and lifting the spirits – as well as the shooting that demands concentration, precision, and self-awareness. Learning to remain calm and focused while under physical and mental stress is a great skill.
If you’re a skier and think you might like to try biathlon, most biathlon clubs will teach the basics of the sport. In most cases these clubs will have rifles that new biathletes can use. That way you don’t have to buy one just to see if you’re going to like biathlon. Rifle safety, of course, is paramount, and you may be required to take a rifle safety certification class before handling a rifle or competing. This will vary depending on country so please ask locally.