Biathlon World Championships in Oslo
The most Nordic of sports returns to Holmenkollen
M. Michael Brady
The 2016 Biathlon World Championships are being held at Holmenkollen in Oslo, from March 3 to 13. It’s the sixth time that Oslo has hosted the championships; the previous five times were in 1986, 1990, 1999, 2000, and 2002.
As its name implies, biathlon is a sport that combines two events, cross-country ski racing and rifle shooting. A biathlon competition comprises skiing around a cross-country trail loop, in which the distance skied is broken up by two or four rounds of shooting, half in prone and half standing. In each round of shooting, the biathlete must hit five targets, and time penalties are added for missed targets. The winner of an event is the biathlete with the shortest total time.
The roots of biathlon most likely are Norwegian, as 4,000-year-old rock carvings in Norway show two skiing hunters stalking game. With time, soldiers took to skiing in winter, which led to the first known biathlon competition in 1767 betweeen companies of skiing troops. In 1861, the world’s first ski club, the Trysil Skytte- og Skiløberforening (Trysil shooting and skiing club) was founded, in part to promote defense at the local level.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, armies throughout the Alps and the Nordic countries formed skier units to patrol and guard borders in winter. This led to the first international biathlon competition, the Military Patrol event, demonstrated in 1924 in the first Olympic Winter Games in Chamonix, France, and thereafter in three Winter Olympic Games, 1928, 1936, and 1948. In the Winter War of 1939-1940, though outnumbered 10 to one by the invading Russians, Finnish Army ski troops routed the enemy from their border.
Today biathlon is a civilian sport. But a vestige of its military past remains. Many biathletes are career cadre in the skiing contingents in the armies of mountainous countries. An outstanding example is Martin Flourcade, the non-commissioned officer and member of Équipe de France Militaire de Ski (French Military Ski Team), who in biathlon has won six World Championship gold medals, two Olympic Winter Games gold medals, and four World Cups. Understandably, he’s a biathlete to watch in Oslo this March.
The schedule of the 2016 Championships has 11 events: individual, sprint, pursuit, mass start, and relay events for men and women, and a mixed relay. Thanks to TV coverage, biathlon now is the most watched winter sport in Norway.
• Championships overview with movie: www.oslo2016.no/en
• Information brochure: www.oslo2016.no/globalassets/infobrosjyre_eng.pdf
This article originally appeared in the March 11, 2016, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.