Skiing and shooting a natural Olympic mix

By Sean Ostruszka

A long time ago, someone, somewhere asked themselves a question: How can you make the event of cross-country skiing more exciting?

The logical answer: give the skiers a gun.

Someone else obviously thought this was a good idea and since 1960 the Olympics have had an event called the biathlon, according to .

A mating of cross-country skiing and rifle shooting, the biathlon challenges athletes to not only be in peak physical shape, but they also must be good marksmen.

Some compare this event to running up a flight of stairs and then trying to thread a needle.

The object of the sport is not only to be able to ski quickly, but also be able to hit small targets at set shooting stations.

Biathletes have to hit between 10 and 15 targets — depending on the event — which are small holes lined in a row of five in a fence. As if the pressure to hit the target wasn’t large enough, a miss inflicts a two-minute time penalty.

Until 1980, biathletes used high-powered military rifles, but before the Lake Placid Games, the Olympic committee decided that wasn’t such a good idea. The weapon of choice now is a .22-caliber target rifle. The rifle must be carried on a sling and cannot be loaded until the biathlete reaches the shooting area.

When you talk about the biathlon, you have to talk about the history and tradition of the sport.

According to, the first repeat champion biathlete was Magnar Solberg, a Norwegian police officer, back in the 1972 Games. Go figure that a man from a country that has areas with permanent snow would be good at this event.

Women were included in this fine sport in the 1992 Olympics. A German, Antje Misersky, won all three events.

And as impressive as Misersky’s accomplishments were, they can’t compare to those of Ole Einar Bjoerndalen in the last Olympics.

The Norwegian won all four men’s events in Salt Lake City to become only the third athlete to ever win at least four gold medals in one Olympics.