Biathlon – an Endurance Sport with Rich History

Biathlon - an Endurance Sport with Rich History
Biathlon – an Endurance Sport with Rich History

For North America, biathlon is a strange sport that is seen as a qwerk of european sports culture. While it is quite popular in Europe, the United States and Canada are not seeing a national following. With that said, they don’t want to fall behind this winter discipline, especially given its significance at the winter olympics. But what is it about biathlon that makes it unique and attracts so many athletes and viewers, especially in europe?

Biathlon has its roots in 19th century Norway, where military personnel would compete in skiing and shooting. While those are the fundamental ingredients of biathlon, at the time it was just an amateur competition that didn’t have any real rules or structure. Towards the end of the 19th century, a Norwegian military commander Oscar Wergeland wrote a book that made skiing and shooting into an official military drill, and laid the foundation for a ski troops as a military division in countries across europe, including Italy, France, Germany, Finland and Russia. The US caught on a couple of decades later, and almost every military that took part in World War I had ski troops fighting.

In 1924 the Winter Olympics were established, and among the sports that everyone competed in was “Military Patrol” which is the grandfather of biathlon. Unsurprisingly, it was the ski troops from their respective armies who competed against each other in this discipline. This sport continued to be part of the winter olympics until World War II. When World War II began in 1939, the Soviet Union decided to invade Finland in what is known as the Russo-Finnish war, also known as the winter war. The Soviets’ invasion was technically successful, but the Soviet forces suffered such devastating losses in that war, that the victory was hardly something worthy of celebration. These losses were inflicted by the Finnish ski troops. Their riflemen, in addition to being accurate in their shooting, were also highly mobile, giving them a significant advantage over regular infantry. This motivated other nations, including the United States, to build up an army of skiing riflemen to be a deadly force in winter conditions and mountainous areas.

All this meant that Biathlon, while did not exist as a discipline officially, had very real prerequisites to becoming a sport that will prove to have cultural significance in european countries. Biathlon officially began its existence as a winter Olympic sport in 1960. The sport is now loved by millions and is considered to be one of the most difficult endurance sports out there. Athletes must be able to ski as fast as they can and lay down or stop standing at a moments notice and shoot accurately at five targets. Fitness is not enough. The athletes must be strategic about the way they expend energy, the way they breathe and the time they take to aim, as the sport it all about time. This mix of concentration, marksmanship and stamina is why Biathlon is so well respected. And its historical military origins mean that its not arbitrary in its design, but has genuine tradition built into it, which is why so many people feel a cultural attachment and are such avid fans of it.

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