Biathlon

It’s another sporty one this week since the biathlon season is underway.

If you follow my Twitter feed, you’ll notice the odd (usually excitable) tweet about biathlon. Chances are, you’ll have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about and scroll right past. I’d have done the same, but flicking through channels in the depths of last winter, I happened upon Eurosport and one of the biathlon pursuits.

It took a few races before I understood what was going on. These people were skiing, stopping to shoot things, and skiing off again. Baffling to someone who lives in a country where the climate ranges from drizzle to downpour and guns raise eyebrows. Baffling, yet intriguing. I had to wonder what on earth they were doing and why Magdalena Neuner on a penalty loop “changes everything.”

For the uninitiated, it’s basically cross country skiing with a few “breaks” where the athletes stop to shoot targets. Those targets are small and far away. As you probably guessed, missing targets incurs a penalty. In some races this adds time (e.g. 1 minute per missed shot) or a penalty loop which requires the athlete to ski extra distance before moving on—gruelling if they miss a few. Races range from sprints to relays and endurance to mass starts, each with their own subtle rules to keep things interesting. The favoured ones tend to be the mass starts, relays and pursuits since they offer the chance of a race to the line rather than a time comparison.

If you wanted to give it a go, options are somewhat limited in the UK which is hardly surprising given our lack of snow. To deal with the cross country skiing aspect, we use roller skis on tarmac. These things:

Weird, huh? Don’t ask me where the brakes are–I haven’t worked that out yet. While roller skiing is a sport in its own right, it provides a good basis for a transition to snow. Or, at least, that’s what they tell me. I’ve had a couple of roller ski lessons this winter and should be trying out cross country skiing in Sweden in a few weeks so I’ll know better then. It’s not too difficult to grab the basics; I only hit the tarmac four times last session and I suffer from overconfidence.

You can find a list of UK clubs here:

http://www.snowsportengland.org.uk/nordic-clubs

How about some predictions for the coming season? For the men, all eyes are on Martin Fourcade considering his performance last season. He started well but looked like he struggled in the last race in Oestersund. Norway’s Svendsen is another one to watch and the whole Russian team look strong. For the women, I expected Domracheva to run away with it but Tora Berger is determined to prove me wrong. With those two battling, it should make for an exciting season.

You can catch the races on Eurosport if you’re in the UK:

http://uk.eurosport.yahoo.com/biathlon/

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