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Shooting and skiing: The double-discipline of Biathlon

Farah Dhalla, reporter
February 24, 2013 — Biathlon combines cross-country skiing, shooting and winter weather. The Weather Network's Farah Dhalla visited the range at the Strathcona Science Park near Edmonton to give the sport her best shot.

The sport combines rifle-shooting and cross-country skiing.
The sport combines rifle-shooting and cross-country skiing.

It's a race to the range, then it's a long shot to the target. But Biathlon athletes stay focused despite the challenges.

"What makes it so challenging is you have to go and ski and get your heart rate up and you get tired, and then you have to come into the range, and you have five bullets to hit five targets," says Biathlon athlete Julie Keenliside. "You have to hit five for five and if you don't, you have to ski extra penalty loops for every one you missed."

The sport was invented in the nineteenth century, as an exercise for soldiers in the Norwegian Army. A version of it was demonstrated at the Winter Olympics in 1924, but it didn't become a regular Olympic feature until 1960.

"They were to test soldierly skills," Biathlon coach Alan Ball says. "Soldiers that fight in the winter, they shot and they ski. The Canadian Armed Forces do it too."

Though the athletes are not warriors, the .22 calibre rifles they use are real guns.

Younger aspiring biathletes from the age of 10 upward are trained with those weapons, and coaches stand by the skills riflery teaches them.

"We ask all of our children to take the firearm safety course, and we make sure they pass it," Ball says. "The children have to pay attention to what they are doing. And that attentiveness flows over into the rest of their lives as well."

But biathlon can be tough, especially when it's frigid out, although that doesn't stop committed practitioners of the sport.

"It's actually quite addictive once you start hitting those targets, you just want to keep going," Keenliside says.

With files from Daniel Martins.

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