Biathlon Edmonton.jpgCombining two vastly different skills in one sport seems a little crazy, but there’s something about biathlon that intrigues many viewers. This medley of cross country skiing and shooting is one of the most intense sports I have seen to date; muscles and heart rates are maxed out while skiing and then all of a sudden the athlete needs to still themselves enough to accurately hit targets 50 meters away. Now repeat the whole thing a few times and you have a competition. The sport has its origins in combat in Norway; soldiers were outfitted with skis and rifles and were the most effective at defending the borders. Biathlon developed as a sport in the 1900’s as the past time increase in popularity among civilians and soldiers.

There are many competition formats:

a) Individual: 20 km skiing for men and 15 km women

  • competitors start staggered by 30 seconds
  • looped course that is 3 – 4 km long
  • at the end of the loop they enter the shooting range and shoot prone (lying down), standing, prone, and standing.
  • Missed targets adds a one minute penalty.
  • last loop is a ski to the finish line without shooting.

b) Sprint: 10 km men and 7.5 km women

  • similar to Individual but half the distance
  • two shooting portions: prone and standing
  • missing a target leads to a 150 m penalty lap

c) Pursuit: 12.5 km men and 10 km women

  • Happens after a Sprint event
  • 60 of the top competitors are staggered according to their Sprint finish times
  • Goal of the athletes is to chase and beat the times of the lead positions
  • Four shooting portions: prone, prone, standing, standing

d) Relay: 4×7.5 km men and 4×6 km women

  • Each team has four members
  • Teams race at the same time
  • Each member skis three or four km then shoots prone and then skis 7.5 km then shoots standing
  • 150 m penalty lap for missed targets
  • Competitor tags team member at the end of leg
  • whoever crosses finish line first, wins

e) Mass Start: 15 km men and 12.5 km women

  • Winners from other events qualify for this event
  • Everyone starts at the same time
  • Lap is 3 to 4 km long
  • Four shooting portions: prone, prone, standing, standing
  • 150 m penalty lap for missed targets
  • winner is first to the finish line

I had the privilege of hanging out with the Edmonton Biathlon Team from the Edmonton Nordic Ski Club as they were preparing for multiple competitions around Alberta. Helene Jorgensen, the head biathlon coach, guided me through the preparation before and all of the intricacies during the practice. I was astonished by the marksmanship needed to hit the targets while we were preparing the targets: think about hitting a target no larger than the palm of your hand while laying down on the ground, and something no larger than your hand while standing up 50 meters away – now go for a 4 km sprint before doing that. Practices and pre-competition work involve things like:

  • Zeroing rifles sights: a paper target is shot at the 50 meter distance and deviations are monitored by the coach who then tells the athlete to adjust the sights.
  • Skiing Warm Ups: the warmth in the season reduced the track down to about a 1 km loop.
  • Combining both zeroing and skiing to ensure accuracy.

The sport is suited for all age ranges but any of the athletes were kids and youth few older than 17 years of age. There were a few late bloomers there, for instance a person in their late thirties who just started to ski and shoot a year ago. Helene says that there’s always room for new people on the team and I definitely believe it; every coach and athlete I met was welcoming and always happy to help one another out. If you are interested in biathlon I’d definitely recommend checking out Edmonton Nordic Ski Club!

About Chris Tse

I’m a scientist turned owner of Blitz Conditioning, a Fitness Columnist at CBC Radio on Thursdays at 8:20 am, and owner of Tse Social Strategy. Follow me on Twitter or Read my full bio.

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