Friday, January 31, 2014

2014 Olympics Preview: Biathlon


Sprint: Men's 10km, Women's 7.5km
Pursuit: Men's 12.5km, Women's 10km
Individual: Men's 20km, Women's 15km
Mass Start: Men's 15km, Women's 12.5km
Relay: Men's 4 x 7.5km, Women's 4 x 6km, Mixed 4 x 6km/7.5km


The "Norwegian driveby" combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting. Think that sounds easy? You're wrong. Depending on the shooting position (standing or "prone" which is laying on your stomach), athletes get 5 shots to hit 5 metal targets 50 meters away. From the prone position, the target is about the size of a golf ball and from the standing position it is about the size of a grapefruit. Basically, 50 meters is the size of an Olympic swimming pool which means athletes have to shoot a target the size of a golf ball from a swimming pool's length away. Penalties for each miss can either be a minute of added time of haivng to ski a 150-meter penalty loop. There are 11 different events from individual (20km for men, 15km for women with 4 shooting segments) and sprint (10km for men, 7.5km for women with 3 shooting stops). The sprint is basically a shorter version of the individual race but it also serves as the qualifier for the Pursuit (12.5km for men, 10km for women) which pits the top 60 finishers from Sprint. In Pursuit, the starting times are staggered by the order of finish in the Sprint based on the margin of time separating the finishers. The Mass Start event is basically total chaos between the top 30. The Relay event is a typical 4-person relay race that involves skiing and shooting. For the first time ever, there will be a mixed relay involving teams of men and women.


Germany has traditionally cleaned house at biathlon, winning 43 medals over the history of the event, including 16 of the 64 Golds. That's not even including the 11 medals (3 golds) won by East Germany and 5 medals (1 gold) won by West Germany. Norway features the man who has been called the best biathlete of all time in Ole Einar Bjorndalen. At 40 years old this will be his 6th Olympic games and he has 6 Golds, 4 Silvers and 1 Bronze in his career (including a sweep in Salt Lake where he won the Individual, Sprint, Pursuit and Relay). That title could be under threat from countryman Emil Hegle Svendsen who won 2 Golds and a Silver in his first Olympics in Vancouver. Svendsen is currently second in the Biathlon World Cup standings behind Martin Fourcade of France. On the women's side, Norwegian Tora Berger is ranked first in the world and is the defending gold medalist in the Individual race. Norway is the top-ranked nation on the women's side with Ukraine, Russia and Germany in close pursuit.

US Hopefuls

The US has never medaled in biathlon, but have made significant investments in the program since 2006. In Vancouver only one American had a top-10 finish. America's best hope probably lies in Tim Burke. The US men's team is ranked 9th in the world and the women's team is ranked 12th.


Norway and Germany will clean house. Four members of the Russian biathlon team just failed a drug test, so they'll probably be banished to Siberia or something.

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