An introductory guide to the Biathlon World Cup

Rabbitz Roar Guru

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    With the greenkeepers of Test grounds capitulating to their cricket boards all over the world, it is truly fortuitous that this weekend sees the start of the Biathlon World Cup season in Oestersund, Sweden.

    Biathlon is a winter Olympic sport which combines cross country skiing with precision target shooting.

    It is one of the most physically demanding winter sports, and it also requires a great deal of fine motor control under pressure.

    In a typical race, a biathlete is required to ski with his or her rifle over a set distance to a shooting range, where five shots at five knockdown targets 50 metres downrange are taken from prone position, with penalty laps awarded for missed shots.

    The racer then skis another loop, and comes back to the shooting range for another set of shots – this time from a standing stance. Again, penalties are awarded for missed shots.

    The biathlete then completes a final loop to the finish line. The races vary in distance between six and 20 kilometres, in temperatures as low a -25° C.

    Unlike a lot of ball sports, the biathlon (and most winter sports) holds its World Cup each year, spread over a number of rounds.

    The first round kicks off with the mixed relay event in Oestersund. The final, ninth round is in Khanty Mansiysk, Russia in March 2013, where the overall winner will be presented with the coveted Crystal Globe.

    The Women’s World Cup is wide open this year after the retirement of Magdalena Neuner of Germany after the last season. Neuner had dominated the sport for several seasons, but amazingly retired at the tender age of 24.

    Darya Domracheva of Belarus, Olga Zaitseva from Russia, Finland’s Kaisa Mäkäräinen, Vita Semerenko of Ukraine and Tora Berger of Norway are at the head of a very long list of potential World Cup round and overall Crystal Globe winners this year.

    The Men’s tour will be no less competitive. In fact, if it is anything like last season, the Crystal Globe winner will not be decided until the final round in Khanty Mansiysk, in Siberia.

    Last year’s World Cup holder, Martin Fourcade of France, will need to be on his toes with rivals like Emil Helger Svendsden of Norway, Andreas Birnbacher of Germany, Carl Johan Bergman from Norway, fellow Norwegian Tarjei Boe, Russia’s Anton Shipulin and Finland’s Freddy Lindstrom all capable and willing to take his crown.

    Biathlon is one of the most popular sports in Europe, with some rounds drawing over 100,000 spectators despite the freezing temperatures. Events typically take place in temperatures between -5 and -20° C (I suspect the bars do a roaring trade).

    So if you are lucky enough to have Eurosport in your cable package, set the recorder, grab a few coldies, set the air conditioner to -5 degrees (just to get a feel for it) and soak up the action, tension, despair and joy of a few rounds of one of the most grueling sports on offer.