- The development of biathlon sports
1948: The combination of cross country skiing and shooting was implemented at the 5th Olympic games in St. Moritz for the first time. Yet, the contest included downhill, fencing and riding as well.
1949: The International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to establish cross-country skiing and shooting as a separate sport according to a Swedish model. That is how biathlon sport came into existence.
1958: The first world championship in biathlon was held in the Austrian location of Saalfelden close to today’s World Cup venue in Hochfilzen.
1960: It was the first time that biathlon was official Olympic discipline in Squaw Valley. Back then, however, large-calibre rifles without target optic were prevalent. Most commonly, balloons put into square cartons were used to present the targets.
1972: That year might be considered as the birth of small bore biathlon rifles as they are used today. As a result not only the number of participants in competitions rose but also the spectators. From now on bystanders could experience the proceedings more closely.
1976: The first World Cup biathlon was launched. In the course of the establishment of squads in order to promote sports in Germany (NVA in the DDR,) athletes had the chance to practice biathlon professionally.
1983/84: In Chamonix (France) world championships for women took place for the first time.
1984: Oberhof first staged a World Cup Biathlon
1992: Women participated in biathlon at the Olympic games for the first time hosted in the French town Albertville.
1993: The International Biathlon Union (IBU) was founded in London (Great Britain) on 2 July. In Salzburg (Austria) on 2 December opened the office of the IBU.
2002: The pursuit was first held as an Olympic competition in Salt Lake City (USA).
2004: Oberhof is venue for the world championships in biathlon.
2006: Mass start made its debut within the Winter Olympics in Turin (Italy) in 2006.
2007: The world championships biathlon implemented in Antholz (Italy) were first host of mixed relay competitions.
2014: The Olympic Games in Sotschi (Russia) included the mixed relay for the first time as an Olympic discipline.
- All to know about shooting
The shooting range
The biathlon shooting range consists of 30 lanes. Shooting at a distance of 50 metres, measured from shooting mat to target, the biathlete has to hit a target of 11,5 cm in diameter at the standing. With only 4.5 cm in diameter the targets at prone appear even smaller.
Today, the typical biathlon rifle is a small bore rifle whose weight is limited to a minimum of 3.5 kg. To guarantee adherence to all safety measures the athlete’s rifles will be checked before every start. In fact, rifles must be presented unloaded at the control as bullets are only allowed to add to the rifle at the range. Furthermore, the test includes a check of trigger weight. This weight represents the pressure to overcome in order to trigger a shot and is regulated to a minimum of 500 g. Since strict regulations exist before each start there are also similar restrictions after having finished the race. It is, for example, prohibited to end up a race with loaded weapon. If an athlete violates any rule or misses a control he will immediately be defaulted.
Behind the scenes
A biathlon competition not only starts with the starting signal. A glance behind the scenes reveals how much preparation is required for each athlete per competition.
Why do athletes shoot before competition?
Promptly before shooting athletes have a maximum of 45 minutes to adjust their rifles to the current external conditions. Besides strength and direction of wind, snowfall and insolation (causing optical changes) remain as decisive factors for shooting. In this period athletes shoot at targets made of paper so that the responsible coach can inform his athletes about variations. Once discrepancies have occurred the athlete changes adjustment at the dioptre in order to set his rifle optimally for the competition.
Although shooting test takes place very close to the competition’s start external conditions might change. This comes especially into action if the athlete having a high number starts quite at the end of competition or as one of the last relay racers. As a result the biathlete has to remember exactly what conditions have prevailed before competition and needs to deliberate on whether conditions have changed or not. In doing so, little red flags serve as important tools to compare wind conditions. Having decided on adjusting the dioptre the athlete has to make up his mind how to react properly. Thus, shooting is not only about having a steady hand at a heart rate of 180 but also about thinking and observing – and not to forget about the nerves.
- The optimal ski
The material of ski represents a crucial factor in preparation making the difference between victory and defeat. Even the world’s best skier in top form won’t have a chance to win being equipped with wrongly prepared ski. Calculation is simple: Ski make up to 7 % regarding speed. Consequently, this would be 3.5 minutes at a net skiing time of about 50 minutes in individual! That’s why preparation and choice of optimal ski start at least two days before competition. The athlete chooses four to five favourites out of a wide range of skis.
In general, skis can be distinguished by their grinding and strength of tension. Grinding decides on how efficiently friction can be reduced. On wet snow a coarser structured ski base repelling more water enables a ski to glide perfectly. In contrast to that, a fine structure is required when it comes to cold, hard snow.
Similarly, tension of skis is adjusted to the prevalent conditions: If snow is soft, a less ski tension should be chosen. Consequently, the flexible top of the ski glides better in deep snow. Analog to hard snow a hard ski is the ideal choice.
Which kind of wax is best to use will be decided right on day of competition. Thus, athletes and ski technicians can be met at the ski testing area a long time before competition’s start. Besides current snow and temperature conditions the feeling of gliding over the snow of each ahtlete remains decisive. As it regards both choice of ski and wax a wide span of sorts and shades are available. Therefore, consultancy by experienced ski technicians is of invaluable importance.
Nonetheless, what applies for shooting before competition is also relevant for ski preparation: If conditions suddenly change, for example because it starts snowing, an optimally adjusted ski can turn into a failure. As a result, technicians even have to react within competition and exchange ski of final skiers in relay.
- During race – some basic information
Biathlon is a sport in which even a tenth of a second decides on victory or defeat. Even more important is keeping athletes constantly informed during race e.g. whether the biathlete has lost or won time compared to his combatants. A further substantial information is the hitting accuracy on the range. If an athlete obtains information about whether he has hit the targets on the right, on the bottom left or on the top he may take a more precise decision on how to adjust his rifle appropriately to the conditions.
However, the shooting range is defined as a silent zone which bars coaches on the range as well as 10 metres in front and behind the stand from interacting with the competitors. This task, indeed, is accomplished by team members and technicians on the track who stay in contact by walkie-talkies.
Abortion of a competition
As an outdoor sport biathlon is closely related to weather conditions. In fact, athletes have to adapt to snow and wind conditions as well as to temperature etc. Yet, limits prevail. As soon as temperatures drop below -20°C or colder competition has to be aborted. The same is valid to extreme weather conditions such as extremely strong wind or fog. Decisions are made by a jury.
- Tracks in Oberhof
Tracks in Oberhof are some of the most challenging in the World Cup. They are divided into separate sections and are combine suitable to each competition length. By the way, sections come up with different names such as Wolfsschlucht, Birxsteig, Tambacher Straße, Frankfurter Kreuz, Brunnenweg, FIS-Schneise, Kulle-Kurve and Sägespänen-Runde. For a couple of years the so called “Henkel-loop”, named after Andrea Henkel, has been established.
The “Wolfsschlucht”, named after former biathlete Karl-Heinz Wolf who was in charge of conception and construction, has been a prominent sector for several years. It depicted the fastest track section of the World Cup. In some parts athletes reached a speed up to 80 kilometres per hour. Firstly, the section was mitigated by filling the compression at the lower end of the gorge with soil. The “Wolfsschlucht” has been excluded from the course network, employed at biathlon competitions, for a few years, though. The biathletes are now leaving the stadium after shooting range on another descent.
But including downhill terrain implies uphill sections. Immediately to the downhill part after the stadium the “Birxsteig” has been added. Boasting a length of 500 metres it is the longest climb of the whole track and features the highest rise of 65 metres of difference in altitude. At the World Cup the “Birxsteig” is lined with spectators roaring the athletes virtually up the hill. Former director of the track Roland Schmidt, known as “Birx”, lent his name to the climb.