Double Trouble: The Biathlon 

Combines the endurance of cross country skiing with the expertise of rifle shooting




Have you ever wondered how some of the winter Olympics sports came to be? I was watching the biathlon the other day wondering this exact thing. The Biathlon is a winter Olympic sport that combines cross country skiing with rifle shooting. Participants race around a cross country trail and there will be two to four shooting rounds, half in the prone position and half in the standing position. For each shooting round, the participant must hit five targets and they receive a penalty for each missed shot. The penalty varies depending on the specific competition and is either added distance or time penalties. The person with the shortest time wins.   

How did this interesting sport begin? Its roots began in Scandinavia where early inhabitants hunted on skis through the snow-covered forests with rifles slung over their shoulders. Nowadays a similar activity to the sport is used as an alternative training method for the Norwegian military. It’s not uncommon for professional biathletes to list their second profession as soldier or border guard. Cross Country skiing requires endurance, strength, speed and skill. One comparison to what it feels like to compete in a biathlon is like running up 10 flights of stairs and then trying to thread a needle.

One interesting fact about the biathlon is that it is a sport that has one of the greatest varieties of Olympic winners from different countries. It is not dominated by one or two countries like some sports. That makes it interesting and fun to watch because so many countries have the possibility to win on any given day. Biathletes can also be competitive into their 40s unlike many sports where athletes fizzle out long before then.

Typically, Americans have not been good on a world level at this event. It’s the only Olympic sport where an American has yet to medal. Biathlete Lowell Bailey has competed at three Olympics games and was America’s best possibility but unfortunately it didn’t work out for the 2018 games. In many parts of the world, biathletes are a big deal and extremely popular. In America this is not the case, due to a lack of funding for the sport and the fact that half our country doesn’t get snow in the winter.

One official training center for many winter sports, including the biathlon, is the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, N.Y., which opened in 1982 and previously hosted the 1932 and 1980 Olympic Winter Games. There are also many other training centers in the United States dedicated to educating, promoting and expanding the participation of the biathlon. Hopefully by the next winter games in 2022, we can start seeing some American medals for the biathlon!

If you’d like to experience what it feels like to be a biathlete, you can get a complete Olympic experience at Soldier Hollow Nordic Center in Midway, Utah. You can sign up as a group or as an individual. Click here for packages and instructions.