Biathlon in Vancouver: ski fast, hit the target
As a sport, biathlon is arguably right up there with the toughest. Combining endurance, tactical skill and precision shooting, the biathlon field in Vancouver will compete for gold over five key events: sprint, pursuit, individual, mass start and relay. The objective in each race is the same: to get to the finish line in the quickest time possible whether penalties have been incurred or not, during attempts to hit five small targets at the shooting range. There are two shooting positions, prone and standing, which are performed in a sequence depending on the competition.
For the Individual and Sprint competitions, starts are done with one competitor at a time with a 30-second interval. In a Pursuit competition, starts are based on time intervals from the qualifying competition; and for the Mass Start, all competitors start together simultaneously. In the Relay competition, the first members of all teams start simultaneously and, after completing their part, tag the next member to start them on their way.
Critical spot: the shooting range
While needing to maintain a fast pace over race distances that can reach 20km for the men and 15km for the women, the shooting range – where targets sit 50 metres away - is where it can all go wrong. A missed shot means incurring penalties, which, depending on the event, translates either into a penalty of one minute (individual event) or skiing a 150-metre loop near the end of the course. To be successful, athletes must stay calm and not show any nerves. Sweden’s Helena Jonsson, currently leading the overall rankings of the IBU World Cup, tells us from experience: “It is easy to get too nervous and to want too much, and then it becomes difficult to achieve good results. The key is to try to relax and do everything as you would normally do.”
For spectators’ value for money, the Whistler Olympic Park will be hard to beat. It features three separate stadiums for the biathlon, cross-country and ski jumping competitions located about 400 metres apart. The venue also has 15 kilometres of Olympic competition trails and, for the biathlon events, a 30-lane shooting range, which is equipped with a fully electronic target system which was well tested throughout the 2008-09 World Cup season. Simon Fourcade, one of France’s top biathletes says: “It’s a great venue, and is in beautiful surroundings. It looks an easy course because it is wide, but it’s far from easy. It’s really demanding, with few areas in which to recuperate.
After the Games the Whistler Olympic Park aims to continue being a top venue for international competition, as well as developing Nordic sports opportunities in the local communities. According to organisers there will be significant opportunity for post-Games recreational use, with an additional 40 kilometres of recreational trails. So if you cannot make it to the Olympic Games, try out there later in the tracks of Olympians!