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- Every four years, there is one Winter Olympics sport that raises the most eyebrows – biathlon.
- While most multi-discipline sports are meant to test overall athletic prowess (e.g. decathlon, triathlon), biathlon combines the endurance of cross-country skiing with shooting rifles at a target.
- The sport actually has a logical explanation that traces back to hunting and military skills found in northern European countries.
Every four years, there is one Winter Olympics sport that raises the most eyebrows – biathlon, a sport which combines cross-country skiing with rifle shooting.
Most multi-discipline sports are meant to simply test overall athletic prowess (e.g. decathlon, triathlon). But biathlon is different in that involves skiing long distances with occasional stops to shoot at targets. If a competitor misses a target, they are then required to ski a 150-meter penalty loop.
While the inclusion of guns in the Olympics may seem like a weird mix, there is actually a logical explanation.
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The sport has its roots in hunting techniques that have been used in Scandinavian countries for centuries. Hunters would often take to skis with rifles mounted on their backs to find prey.
These strategies were later used by the Swedish and Norwegian militaries. In fact, the first recorded biathlon competition occurred in the 18th century between the militaries of Sweden and Norway.
As you can imagine, it can be quite difficult to hold a rifle steady after traveling long distances on skis. This is a skill that would have been highly sought after in both hunting and the military for northern European nations and easily transferred to athletic competition.
Biathlon became an official Olympic sport in 1960. However, the 1924 Olympics did have an event called military ski patrol, which was a team competition similar to biathlon.