Winter Olympics Challenge: What it takes to be a biathlete

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — The biathlon, a popular Winter Olympics event, is a Scandinavian sport dating back to the 1800s.

Athletes cross-country ski to a target, shoot five times standing up, ski to the next target, shoot five times lying down and repeat. Any miss results in a penalty.

“Somebody that skis really well, and somebody that can shoot really well, put those two things together, which is extremely difficult because when you’re shooting,” said Randy Hall, the rifle coach at Wofford College in Spartanburg. “Obviously you want your breath control and everything, when you’ve been skiing you’re pretty exhausted.”

So News 3’s Stassy Olmos set out to try both — skiing at the Sapphire Valley Ski Resort in North Carolina and then picking up a rifle for the first time at Wofford.

“Trust in that wedge, that’s really great form,” Ski Instructor Nathan Turner told Olmos.

“I don’t know how to stop though…” Olmos said laughing.

“The wider you push them out, that’s perfect,” Turner said instructing her to dig the edges of the skis into the snow to slow her down.

Over at Wofford College, rifle team member Cierra Holcombe showed Olmos how to shoot a small bore rifle.

“A 22 (rifle) is a good starter because it does have a very tiny kick,” Holcombe said.

So you may be wondering… ‘Who in the world thought of this?’

“It started with the Norwegians training for the military, then they found out that the Norwegians citizens, of course, like to ski,” Hall said, “It was a good way to teach marksmanship training in case they needed it for wartime service.”

He’s competed in something similar.

“When I was shooting, I was a Lieutenant in the 1st Infantry Division. I was in 437 Armor in Fort Riley Kansas,” Hall explained, “We actually ran like two or three miles in full gear, and then came back and shot a competition there.”

As Holcombe explains, “When it comes to standing, it’s one of the most difficult because you’re the farthest from the ground which means there’s going to be a lot of movement.”

In the Biathlon, athletes shoot a target 150 feet away.

“You’re shooting at something about the size of a quarter, and the actual bullseye is about the size of a head of a pen,” she said.

Olmos took a few shots standing, and three shots lying down. Holcombe brought the target paper over to Olmos.

“That is — that’s a 10,” she said.

Be sure to check out the last Winter Olympics Challenge: News 3 learns to curl.

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