NORWAY — A Biathlon scheduled at Roberts Farm Preserve Saturday, Feb. 11, was cancelled for a lack of confidence in weather conditions.
The biathlon is sponsored by the Western Foothills Land Trust Program. Coordinator Kelly Hodgkins hopes to reschedule it for early March.
“We are one of the few groups in the state doing biathlons. There’s not too many places around the state that have the setup to be able to hold one.” Hodgkins said.
Although the chance to get out on the course in Norway may elude people for a few weeks, enthusiasts and inquirers alike can watch the world’s best compete in Pyeongchang this and next week; the men’s 20k individual competition is Thursday, Feb. 15.
“We try to make [the biathlon] as fun as possible so it’s accessible to a wider range of experiences,” Hodgkins says. “We have a shorter loop for younger kids and we have more competitive distances for older, more experienced skiers … they do three loops of skiing, the longest is two kilometers; so, they’ll ski and come in to shoot, then repeat two more times.” If skiing 6 kilometers sounds a little much there is also a race with three loops of one kilometer.
Toned down from the Olympic standards, there are volunteers – frequently from local gun clubs –to time runs and oversee the firing line. Further safety precautions are made for amateur competitors. For example, skiers do not ski with their rifles on their backs as in the competitive scope of the sport they are instead left on the range and are lower powered air rifles (with a shorter firing distance to compensate) and good backdrop, according to Hodgkins.
Like their Olympic counterparts, skiers fire their volleys at five targets, and depending on the event, they both ski a penalty lap, a distance that must be traveled for each missed shot. In the Olympics that’s 150 meters; at RFP, its once around the entrance field.
Although bolstered by volunteers and other considerations such as Woodman’s Sporting Goods providing the Land Trust with air rifles, Hodgkins’ position is a mixture of hope and despondence.
“The biathlon is not as prevalent here, I think probably because of the amount of gear it takes and the setup that’s required. It’s harder to find coaches, but there are a lot of people who’ve never tried it before who want to give it a try.
“There were students here from the University of New England earlier who wanted to see what mixing the two [skiing and marksmanship] is like. It’s not really organized groups, just people who want to try something new and different that you normally can’t do because there are not a lot of biathlon events in the state.”
Although the WFLT biathlon is far from its Olympic inspiration, that event itself is considerably digressed from its origins as well.
Literally “two contests” from the Greek, the Encyclopedia Britannica credits the early entomology of the sport to the skiing traditions of early Scandinavian hunters (modern day Finland, Sweden and Norway).
The Norse god Ull was heralded as the god of both skiing and hunting. Fighting on skis has been documented since the Second Northern War (late 17th into early 18th century) and developed interpretations of the military exercise began to emerge as forms of competition within and among ski patrol units.
The first recorded was in 1767 between troops of soldiers guarding the Swedish-Norwegian border. The next major opportunity for the Biathlon occurred as a demonstration sport in the first winter Olympic games in Chamonix, France, in 1924.
In that iteration it was called a “military race of 20-30 Kilometers; with shots,” according to the “Official Report of the VIII Olympiad” (translated from French), which describes the event:
“The military ski event, by patrols of four men, one of whom was an officer, on January 29, on a course of 30 kilometers the end of which was to make a shot on target, whose results motivated a bonus of 30 seconds per shot placed in the target. The course was to be entirely made by complete patrols, with skiers being in campaign outfit with weapons and luggage.”
The teams were released a few minutes apart from one another and although Finland out-shot Switzerland and beat it across the finish line; the time the Scandinavians had made up secured them the gold, placing Finland with the silver and France took bronze according to Olympic record.
The sport gained official recognition at the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics. Equipment has also changed drastically with the requirements; the expectation in 1924 was to hit a target 600 meters away with a military rifle. Today’s purpose-built Biathlon rifles fire .22 caliber LR rounds and are shaped to the individual shooter aiming at a target 50 meters away. In the Modern Biathlon there are six events: individual, sprint, pursuit, relay, mixed race, and mass start:
Individual: 20 kilometers for men, 15 for women with four shooting bouts and a one-minute penalty added for each missed shot; the prone and standing firing stations alternate.
Sprint: Roughly half the individual event’s parameters, two rounds of shooting and 10 kilometers for men and 7.5 for women, the penalty for each missed shot is to ski one 150-meter penalty loop.
Pursuit: First competitor across the finish line wins gold, however the gold medal winners from the individual and sprint events are given a head start, subsequent athletes are released relative to their times behind the winner in the sprint event. There are four rounds of shooting and a missed shot incurs a 150-meter additional distance penalty. Two bouts of prone are followed by two standing
Relay: The biathlon has relays separated by gender but also a mixed relay. Four male competitors each ski 7.5 kilometers and women ski 6, the distances are the same in both the separate and mixed relay events with the mixed having two men and two women. Each athlete gets two bouts of shooting and must ski the extra 150 meters for each missed shot. In the relay events biathletes are permitted to bring three extra rounds of ammunition that they must individually hand load if needed.
Mass Start: The penalty is the additional distance with four shooting bouts and bouts are two prone before two standing. The key difference is that all competitors are on the field and everyone starts at the same time; first one across the finish line wins gold.
The U.S men’s team in Pyeongchang have considerable experience behind them; by contrast this year the women’s team is comprised of Olympic first timers. Susan Dunklee of Barton, Vermont was the first American woman to get a medal, taking silver at the world championships in 2017.
To date the U.S. has never won in the Biathlon, making it the only winter Olympic sport for which the U.S has not taken home a medal.
Anyone interested in participating should contact WFLT at 739-2124 or access its Facebook page.