Thursday, November 26

Biathlon - A Beginner's Guide

biathlon, female biathlete from italy shooting with rifle. Wintersports shown on biathlonwworld and eurosport.

Biathlon; cross-country skiing and rifle shooting. It's an exciting sport; it can all change on one missed shot, racers dance past each other up hills steeper than stair cases. There are mountains, snow and beautiful forests of firs. Although I've never actually skied on real snow, I'm addicted to it - this is the exciting world of Biathlon.

The season runs from November to around March with world championships as the highlight. It's the perfect Christmas sport! Little Christmas trees are sprinkled around the courses, the crowds are bundled up in woolly hats and scarves, the huge fir trees are weighed down by heavy snowfall and each venue is surrounded by dramatic mountain ranges. Sometimes the snow is falling during the race - a great sport to watch with a cup of hot chocolate!

Biathlon at ostersund, Sweden in 2014. A fur tree or pine tree with christmas baubles and tinsel in the snow. Wintersport shown on eurosport and
The biathlon tour moves weekly to venues especially created and prepared months in advance for the races. Whilst there, 4 types of races selected from a possible 6 will be held. Skiers complete one loop of the course then enter the shooting range to fire their way into the lead. They shoot the 5 targets either standing or lying down (prone position). Sometimes it alternates prone-stand-prone-stand other times its prone-prone-stand-stand. The standing shoots are where everything usually changes as a more unstable body position + pressure mean mistakes up front!

Female biathlestes shooting in the prone position on the shooting range in Ostersund, Sweden 2014 season. Winter sport of Biathlon shown on eurosport and

Individual race - a full field (around 100 Biathletes). A biathlete sets off every 30 seconds. For every shot missed, a biathlete incurs a 1 minute time penalty added on immediately! A race when the most reliable shooters can grab the lead away from the faster skiers.
Sprint-race - a popular one! Just like the individual but with only 2 visits to the range; prone - stand. It's a much quicker and shorter race than the individual making it faster paced and more popular with crowds. For every shot missed, racers ski around a penalty loop usually around 150 meters and taking around 22 - 28 seconds to complete. Faster skiers can still win with a couple of missed shots.
Male biathletes Birkeland, Fourcade and Schemp racing for the finish at Ostersund, Sweden during the mixed relay in 2014. A wintersport with lots of snow, picture from
3 of the biggest teams in Biathlon racing for the gold in the mixed relay race at Ostersund; L-R, Norway (Birkeland), Germany (Schemp), France (M. Fourcade)
 Pursuit race - my favourite!! Based on the results of the sprint race, biathletes have a head start. So for example if the winner of the race finished 5 seconds ahead of the next racer, he has a 5 second head start and so on all the way down the order. It is then up to the other biathletes to chase him/her down! Sometimes the top ten may all start within 20 seconds and the lead changes regularly. Other times there may be larger gaps and the winner seems decided up until the last shot when the pressure of leading can mean 2 or 3 missed shots and all of sudden a wave of lower placed biathletes have stormed through to grab 1st, 2nd and 3rd.
                 We look for big moves up the order - a biathlete who started number 45 can ski and shoot his way all the way up the rankings to the top 15 or even the top 10.

Start list for the Biathlon pursuit race in Hochfilzen, Austria during the 2014 season. Winter sport, skiing and shooting.

Mass start - pretty simple, all the biathletes start at the same time; a fast and furious race of the top 30 in the world where biathletes have to be careful not to bring each other down! 4 shoots, penalty loops for misses.

Relay - 4 biathletes, 4 legs. Each biathlete skis three laps of the course and completes 2 rounds of shooting; prone then stand. In all the relays the teams usually save their best/fastest biathlete for the last leg although we have seen faster skiers go earlier in recent years to build a head start for those team members who are less experienced and so take the pressure off, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't but it's always exciting to watch!

Mixed relay - In the mixed relay the 2 female biathletes ski legs 1 and 2 and the 2 male biathletes finish the race. Mixed relay allows some of the smaller nations who don't have the numbers to make up a full men or women's team to combine their biathletes and take the win. It also means that the teams who only have 1 or 2 stars and a few average biathletes can choose their top competitors. Mixed relays are made up of the best in the world and are a display of the very best biathlon.

German biathlete, Schemp, at the end of Biathlon race during 2014 season. Endurance winter sport.
Biathlon is an endurance sport and racers often collapse in a heap when they cross the finish line, sometimes they're lying flat on their stomachs for a good 5 minutes panting for breath!
If you're lucky enough to have Eurosport you can enjoy Pat and Mike's (Patrick Winterton and Mike Dixon) very knowledgeable and cheerful commentary -as well as get a guide to how to pronounce some very long and tricky Scandinavian names.

Mike Dixon used to be a Biathlete for the UK - YES! We have a biathlon team!! And unlike many of the more established teams our guys and gals have full time jobs and virtually no monetary support. In Germany where the sport is much bigger the racers have a whole entourage of coaches, technicians and wax specialists and biathlon is their full-time gig - for years their women dominated the sport and were big crowd favourites.

If you don't have Eurosport load up and watch replays and live streams of the races (although without the commentary).

Beautiful winter landscape during the biathlon 2014 season, german stadium, rupholding (I think!). Winter sport with lots of snow and christmas decorations.
At the end of each race, biathletes are given points based on their finishing position. Throughout the season the current leader wears a yellow bib as opposed to the white of the other competitors. There are also relay and sprint points. The current leader on sprint points wears a red bib. At the end of the season various trophies and 'crystal globes' are presented to the winners.

The season is about to start on 30th November I think, if you're new to the sport, start with a mass start or relay - the most accessible. You'll soon be picking out your favourites and cheering on your country!

Ciao for now

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