Biathlon is my favorite Winter Olympics sport

Eight years ago I was only working three days a week because I wanted to have more time my baby. (The transition from maternity leave back to working full time had been far more emotionally challenging than I had anticipated.) I didn’t watch much television on my days home because there was little that aired during weekday daytime that interested me except for reruns of Law and Order and Six Feet Under. But when the Vancouver Winter Olympics started that was an easy thing to keep on, so I did.

Before that my Winter Olympics viewing was typically limited to ice skating, if that. Leaving Winter Olympics coverage on constantly meant that I was suddenly watching all sorts of events I previously hadn’t paid much attention to. Sure, I watched curling, but the new-to-me Winter Olympics event that I became obsessed with was biathlon.

Biathlon is a cross-country skiing race interspersed with target shooting. Athletes ski as fast as they can while stopping periodically to take the rifles they carry on their backs and shoot at targets in either the prone (a.k.a. on their tummies) or standing positions. Missed targets result in either a penalty lap or extra time added.

Like many Olympic sports there are multiple biathlon events at the Winter Olympics. There are sprints, relays, and my favorite: pursuit. In pursuit the athletes’ starts are separated by their times from the previous race. Mass start is another biathlon event that looks as crazy as it sounds.

What I like about biathlon is its bizarre combination of an exhausting physical challenge and a precise mental challenge. Yes, I realize that all sports involve some combination of physical and mental skills, but the contrast is not usually so stark as it is in biathlon. Ski fast! Ski fast! Ski faster! STOP! Hold very still. Shoot verrrrrrrry carefully. Now GO! Ski fast, fast, fast! It seems quite maddening.

Oh, and if you root for Team USA but also like underdogs, biathlon is a good choice since biathlon is the only Olympic sport the US has never medaled in.

If you’ve never watched biathlon before I recommend you check it out this Winter Olympics.


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