What is the Biathlon?
When you think of the Winter Olympics, a few well-loved sports come to mind: figure skating, luge, bobsledding, speed-skating, skiing, and the like. What you might not think of is the biathlon.
The biathlon is an endurance event that combines cross-country skiing with target shooting. It's an extreme test of endurance and precision, two skills valuable to any hunter, sharpshooter or athlete of any kind. Like many sports featured in the Olympics, the biathlon features separate events open to men and women alike.
2014 Sochi Olympic Biathlon Events
- The Sprint
- The Pursuit
- The Individual
- The Mass Start
- The Team Relay
Historically more popular in Eastern European nations where the event is more widely televised, the sport has been dominated by Norway, Germany, and Russia, who have won more than two thirds of the events since the biathlon was added to the Olympic program in 1960.
History of the Biathlon
The biathlon made its Olympic debut in 1960, but like most sports it has a far deeper and richer history than meets the eye. The origins of the sport are believed to be in ancient Scandinavian and northern European hunting practices. The first official biathlons began in the late 18th Century, primarily as military exercises. As such, most participants in biathlons have historically boasted a military background.
After World War II, the sport saw a significant change. It was at that time that it began cultivating specifically trained athletes for competition. The rules of the sport were initially lax. Until 1978, athletes could use different calibers of rifles. Now, a lightweight, .22-caliber rifle is the official firearm used in the competition.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the sport saw an increase in competitors, most notably women, which resulted in the first women's events appearing in the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, France.
This year's Biathlon
The 2014 Sochi Olympic Biathlon will take place over the course of 15 days as follows:
February 8: Men's 10-kilometer Sprint, 9:30 a.m. ET
February 9: Women's 7.5km Sprint, 9:30 a.m. ET
February 10: Men's 12.5km Pursuit, 10 a.m. ET
February 11: Women's 10km Pursuit, 10 a.m. ET
February 13: Men's Individual 20km, 9 a.m. ET
February 14: Women's 15km Individual, 9 a.m. ET
February 16: Men's 15km Mass Start, 10 a.m. ET
February 17: Women's 12.5km Mass Start, 10 a.m. ET
February 19: 2x6km Women + 2x7.5km Men Mixed Relay, 9:30 a.m. ET
February 21: Women's 4x6km Relay, 9:30 a.m. ET
February 22: Men's 4x7.5km Relay, 9:30 a.m. ET
This year's competitors
This year, the two favorites for gold are Martin Fourcade of France for the men and Tora Berger of Norway for the women. However, they still have stiff competition. Ole Einar Bjoerndalen of Norway, nicknamed 'The Cannibal,' has already won 11 Olympic medals in the biathlon, 6 of which were gold. Because the Olympics are set to take place in Sochi this year, the Russian competitors Anton Shipulin, Eygeny Ustyugoy, and Olga Zaitseva could enjoy a distinct home advantage. Overall, Norway is expected to take the medal lead in biathlon, with Russia and Germany as their toughest competitors.
Unfortunately for the United States, the biathlon is not an event in which victory is anticipated. No U.S. competitor has ever won a medal in the biathlon, but this year three-time Olympians Tim Burke and Lowell Bailey hope to be the first. On the women's side, all eyes are on Lanny Barnes, also a three-time Olympian, who competes this year not only for herself, but for her sister. Tracy Barnes gave up her spot so that Lanny, who fell sick during the final qualifying races and barely missed the cut, could participate instead.
"Lanny is my best friend and my teammate. I see how hard she works on a daily basis, so I know firsthand that she is deserving of a spot on the Olympic Team," said Tracy Barnes, in an AP piece ran on ESPN.com.
However, if any American does make it to the podium at Sochi, it is likely to be Tim Burke. Burke is the second American man ever to win a world Championships medal, for which he claimed silver in the 20-km individual last year. In addition, he made multiple podium finishes on the World Cup tour, making him America's best shot at a biathlon medal.
This year's full U.S. Team is:
Lowell Bailey, Lake Placid, N.Y. (2006, 2010 Olympian)
Lanny Barnes, Durango, Colo. (2006, 2010 Olympian)
Tim Burke, Paul Smiths, N.Y. (2006, 2010 Olympian)
Annelies Cook, Saranac Lake, N.Y.
Russell Currier, Stockholm, Maine
Sean Doherty, Center Conway, N.H.
Hannah Dreissigacker, Morrisville, Vt.
Susan Dunklee, Barton, Vt.
Leif Nordgren, Marine, Minn.
Sara Studebaker, Boise, Idaho (2010 Olympian)
Do you plan to watch the Olympic biathlon this year? What are some of your favorite Olympic sports? Leave your comments below.