The Crazy Winter Sport You've Never Heard Of

Dec 12 / Build Muscle

When it comes to winter sports, “biathlon” doesn’t refer to a shorter version of a triathlon. Sure, it combines two sports, but you can't find either one on an Ironman course—the discipline mixes skiing and shooting.   Primitive men in Scandinavia used to ski with a bow and arrow, hunting for food, explains Max Cobb, the president and CEO of U.S. Biathlon. By 1960, men's biathlon became an official Olympic sport. It has since become the most-watched winter sport in Europe, and has a worldwide viewership of approximately a billion people, Cobb says. How it's played:The sport includes five ev...

When it comes to winter sports, “biathlon” doesn’t refer to a shorter version of a triathlon. Sure, it combines two sports, but you can't find either one on an Ironman course—the discipline mixes skiing and shooting.  

Primitive men in Scandinavia used to ski with a bow and arrow, hunting for food, explains Max Cobb, the president and CEO of U.S. Biathlon. By 1960, men's biathlon became an official Olympic sport. It has since become the most-watched winter sport in Europe, and has a worldwide viewership of approximately a billion people, Cobb says.

How it's played:
The sport includes five events: individual race, sprint, pursuit, mass start race, and relay, which includes the mixed relay. The gist: Athletes are released in 30-second intervals to ski three to five laps, depending on the event. In between laps, they stop at the shooting range. There, athletes hit four targets using up to five bullets from a .22 caliber rifle. “The fastest shooters can fire five rounds in six seconds,” Cobb says.  If an athlete misses a target in an individual event, a minute is added to their total time. In the sprint, the penalty is a 150-meter loop after shooting. The fastest time wins.

Why people watch:
The intense drama on the shooting range is what makes biathlon so popular, Cobb says. “Every shot could be the difference between the podium or finishing in 15th place.” Athletes have to perform a high-precision activity while under physical and mental stress, Cobb explains. “Cross-country is the most physically demanding sport, requiring the most training and muscles. It creates a high cardiovascular demand on the body,” he adds. Calming your heart rate enough to shoot a tiny bullseye? That’s like running up and down the Empire State Building two-and-a-half times then solving a math problem on the clock.

Who to watch:
Russia has 18 Olympic gold medals in the sport. The other country to beat is France, thanks to top dog Martin Fourcade: “When he's on, he's almost impossible to beat,” Cobb warns. Norway's Emil Hegle Svendsen is the other favorite. An American has yet to win any medal in biathlon, but three-time Olympians Lowell Bailey and Tim Burke will attempt to make history.

When to watch: February 8 to 22

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