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Befriend A Biathlete

AN-biathlonWhen it comes to the Winter Olympics, there aren’t many events I won’t watch. Some of them are quite alien to my understanding –– with the deepest respect, I have no idea how to tell a good snowboard run from a bad one, except if someone falls. I follow some other sports with more regularity –– curling and hockey being the obvious two. But my own ignorance aside, I enjoy watching the games for the same reason many of us do: national pride, and a willingness to cheer for our compatriots as they strive to lead the world.

In the process of watching those endeavors, I always come across some sports I wish I followed more closely in non-Olympic years. One that recently came to mind: biathlon.

If you’re a bit foggy on what biathlon is, just think about skis and rifles. It’s the endurance sport which demands athletes traverse tough trails and then stop to shoot an array of targets along the way. Developed by the Norwegians in the 19th century, the sport –– once called ‘military patrol’ –– was basically a sort of militia training, which would hone both fitness and marksmanship among the country’s defenders. It became a popular spectator sport in Europe in the 1950s, and was admitted into the Olympics in its current form in 1960.

And good grief, is it tough.

Let me be clear: I’ve never so much as attempted to participate in biathlon. However, I have cross-country skied (in Newfoundland, no less –– which looks a lot like Norway), and shot a rifle. Doing each thing separately is difficult enough; trying to do both things at the same time would strike me as genuinely daunting. If you don’t understand why, allow me to explain.

Tougher than it looks.

First, there’s the cross country skiing. If you’ve never been, this isn’t like your average downhill run… crossing flat ground on a couple of slippery narrow planks is a properly good workout, because you’re using all sorts of muscles just to keep your balance, while also trying to maintain forward momentum. I think there’s a reason machines like my NordicTrack are considered by many to be the most hated in home fitness. It’s like controlled running on ice –– your heart rate inevitably climbs.

If your only experience pulling a trigger is in a first person shooter game, you might not be familiar with how much a high heart rate can alter the trajectory of a rifle shot. Though long guns tend to be inherently more accurate than pistols, they’re still anchored against your torso –– that part of your body that holds your heart and lungs. If you’ve worked up a big sweat, are breathing hard and your pulse is racing, your muzzle and sights may not cooperate.

When confronting a close target, that might be manageable… but what if you push your target out to 50 meters, and make it only 4.5 inches wide? You’ll definitely need to be better than middling.

At the risk of humiliating myself, below are two targets I shot from an unsupported standing position, indoors at just 30 meters –– not even two thirds the distance required in competitive biathlon. Roughly speaking, anything that landed in the 10-ring would have counted as a hit.

Here’s what happened with Smith’s rifle –– a reliable Rossi-built 1892 Winchester in .357 magnum.


Here’s how I did with the Henry H001 –– a real tack-driver, when a good shooter (not me) is behind it –– firing .22 LR ammunition similar to that used in competition.


Admittedly, I was using iron sights (I believe the Olympians use superior mechanical sights)… but I’d also done nothing to raise my heart rate before stepping up to the line. I think the point is clear: when it comes to the Olympics, I’m at my best on the couch.

Sorry Stephanie, more training required.

Biathletes are crazy fit; they ski farther and faster than seems possible to a plebe like me, and they can be extraordinarily precise in the midst of it. As much as I’ve lauded the fitness and skill of a character like Stephanie Shylock, I doubt that she’d be able to manage one of these runs without specific training… and indeed, military training still plays a role in the sport. To this day, armies send representatives to the Olympics; the American in the image at the top of this note is Sergeant Jeremy Teela, competing in Vancouver in 2010.

I believe all our Canadian athletes are civilians, though, and that’s not a bad thing –– it means they won’t be monopolized by duty during a crisis. Given the unique skills they possess, I humbly submit that we should find these individuals and befriend them. I’m sure they’re good people, and they’re also the kind of buddies you’d want under certain post-civilization circumstances.

Basically, I’m saying you should befriend a biathlete in case there’s a zombie apocalypse.

Seriously, crossbows and denim vests are for amateurs; katanas and dreadlocks are for wannabes. If you want to survive, you need someone with a closet full of spandex, and a straight-pull competition rifle.

Just saying.

In the meantime: congratulations to Canada’s Jean Philippe Leguellec, who came fifth in the biathlon 10k sprint last weekend –– finishing within 10 seconds of the time of Norwegian legend Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, who took gold. Indeed, well done to our entire Canadian team, who are working hard in an underfunded sport that’s traditionally dominated by the Europeans.

Hey guys, you all seem cool. Can we hang out… if there’s a zombie apocalypse? It’d be at least this much fun…

More importantly: good hunting the rest of the way, biathletes of Team Canada. We’re all cheering for you (and hoping you’ll save us from the undead, if that whole thing ever happens).