SOCHI 2014

By Paul D. Bowker | July 25, 2013, 1 p.m. (ET)
Susan Dunklee competes in the women's 15-kilometer individual during the IBU Biathlon World Championships at Chiemgau Arena on March 7, 2012 in Ruhpolding, Germany.

SEEKING A PODIUM

The United States will seek its first Olympic medal in biathlon at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games and the timing may be perfect for such a historic moment. Tim Burke, a two-time Olympian, captured the first world championship medal won by a U.S. biathlete in 26 years when he earned a silver medal in the men’s 20-kilometer individual race at the 2013 IBU World Championships. He finished 10th in the 2012-13 World Cup overall standings, including a third-place finish in the men’s 15-kilometer mass start in the world cup event in Pokljuka, Slovenia. Both his world championship medal and top-10 world cup finish qualified him for nomination to a third U.S. Olympic Team. At the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, Burke had his career-best individual Olympic finish by placing 18th in the men’s 15-kilometer mass start. He also helped the U.S. relay team place 13th in Vancouver and ninth at the Torino 2006 Olympic Winter Games. Burke is preparing for his run at an Olympic medal by training at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, N.Y.

TWO GENERATIONS OF OLYMPIANS

Susan Dunklee is the only U.S. woman who has qualified for nomination to the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team because of her strong world cup biathlon season in 2012-13. A contender to win the first U.S. Olympic medal in women’s biathlon, Dunklee will be the second member of her family to compete in the Olympic Winter Games. Her dad, Stan, represented the United States in two Winter Games. An NCAA champion in cross-country skiing at the University of Vermont, Stan competed at the Innsbruck 1976 Olympic Winter Games and Lake Placid 1980 Olympic Winter Games. He helped the U.S. men’s relay team to an eighth-place finish in Lake Placid.

TEAM USA QUALIFYING

Tim Burke competes during a training session at A.V. Philipenko
Winter Sports Centre on March 2, 2011 in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia.

Tim Burke, Lowell Bailey and Susan Dunklee have already been nominated by the US Biathlon Association for the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games because they have met the criteria for selection. The criteria includes a top-30 world cup ranking or finishing among the top 15 at the IBU World Championships or two world cup events. The remaining nominations will be made in January 2014. The Nations Cup rankings from the two world championships prior to the 2014 Olympic Winter Games determine the registration and start quota for each nation. Team USA will likely earn four starts for both the men’s and women’s races and register five men and four women for the Sochi Games. Among the other biathletes contending for spots on the U.S. Olympic Team are Leif Nordgren, Sean Doherty, Annelies Cook and Sara Studebaker, a 2010 Olympian. Doherty won three medals at the 2013 youth/junior world championships. Cook already has a taste of Sochi, having placed 18th there in the women’s 7.5-kilometer sprint at a world cup event in March. Among the top contenders for Team USA at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in biathlon are Andy Soule, a U.S. Army veteran who earned a bronze medal (pursuit) in Vancouver, and Dan Cnossen, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate and U.S. Navy SEAL.

AN OLYMPIC DEBUT

The mixed team relay was one of the disciplines added to the Olympic program in Sochi. The race is run the same way as the men’s and women’s relay races, except that the team will consist of two men and two women. The men will race 7.5 kilometers and the women will race 6 kilometers. Top contenders for the U.S. team include Tim Burke, Lowell Bailey, Susan Dunklee, Sara Studebaker and Annelies Cook. The competition will be held Feb. 19.

DATES TO REMEMBER

The biathlon events will run nearly the entire duration of the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, beginning Feb. 8, the day after the Opening Ceremony. Eleven days of competition are scheduled, beginning with the men’s 10-kilometer sprint on Feb. 8 and concluding with the men’s relay Feb. 22. Each day will produce individual or team medals. Biathlon competition in the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games is set for March 8, March 11 and March 14.

THE MEDALS

A record 11 sets of medals will be awarded in biathlon at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, making a total of 33 individual and team medals. The events: Men’s 10km sprint, women’s 7.5km sprint, men’s 12.5km pursuit, women’s 10km pursuit, men’s 20km individual, women’s 15km individual, men’s 15km mass start, women’s 12.5km mass start, mixed relay, women’s relay, men’s relay.

THE VENUE

All biathlon events will be held at the Laura Cross-Country Ski and Biathlon Center, which is a part of the mountain cluster of venues at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. The center is located on the slopes of Psekhako Ridge in Krasnaya Polyana. It will accommodate 7,500 spectators. The Biathlon Center was completed in 2012 and was used for an IBU World Cup in March 2013. The facility is named after the Laura River, a turbulent mountain river with several waterfalls. The name of the river is based on the legend of a young girl named Laura who chose death by jumping off of a rock into the river instead of being with an old prince she did not love.

BEWARE THE SNOW AND FOG

 
Lowell Bailey competes in the men's 20km individual during
the IBU Biathlon World Championships at Chiemgau Arena on
March 6, 2012 in Ruhpolding, Germany.

Changing weather conditions could affect many the outdoor events in Sochi and biathlon athletes certainly can attest to that after an IBU World Cup was held there in March. Conditions created snow, slush and dense fog at the test event for biathlon. “That was a tough day out there,” U.S. biathlete Annelies Cook told reporters after competing in the women’s 7.5-kilometer sprint. “First, the fog was so thick, you couldn’t see anything. We weren’t sure if we could race, but luckily it cleared up.” Sochi, which is located on the Black Sea, is just 30 minutes away from the Laura Biathlon Center and has an average February temperature of 50 degrees. It is colder, of course, in the higher elevations. Sochi officials are stockpiling 500,000 cubic meters of snow this summer with 400 snow cannons.

THE BIATHLON INDIVIDUALS

The sport combines skiing with shooting in all kinds of weather conditions. Hitting a target is crucial because missing a target results in added time. At the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, the men’s individual race will cover 20 kilometers and the women will go 15 kilometers. Biathletes will start at intervals ranging from 30 to 60 seconds and choose their own shooting lanes. The first and third shooting stages will be in the prone position; the second and fourth shooting stages are from a standing position. Each missed target results in a one-minute penalty.

THE SPRINTS AND RELAYS

The sprint races rely on speed. There are only two shooting stages and the length of the races is shorter, 10 kilometers for the men and 7.5 for the women. Unlike the individual races, in which missed targets add time, a missed target in the sprint adds a 150-meter penalty loop. The penalty is the same for the pursuit and relay races. The relays, which consist of four-person teams, have two shooting stages in each leg for a total of eight shooting stages for each team. Each biathlete has five rounds of .22-caliber ammunition stored in a magazine, or clip, and another three that can be loaded by hand. Each missed target results in the 150-meter penalty loop.

50 YEARS-PLUS

Biathlon joined the Winter Games program in 1960 when Squaw Valley played host. It was included as a demonstration sport at the St. Moritz 1948 Olympic Winter Games. At that time, it was more like a winter form of a pentathlon, since it involved cross-country and downhill skiing, shooting, fencing and equestrian. Women’s biathlon made its Olympic debut in 1992 in Albertville, France. The sport’s origins come from the ancient hunting practices of northern Europe, when people hunted for food on skis with a rifle slung over their shoulder. Biathlon is a combination of skiing and marksmanship. Russia’s Red Army utilized biathlon competition as far back as the 1920s, when soldiers would ski 50 kilometers in full military gear and participate in several shooting stages along the way. Competitions are known to have occurred in Scandinavia in the 18th century.

THE RIFLE

The rifle used in the biathlon is a .22 caliber weapon with mechanical sights. It is carried on an athlete’s back with the barrel pointed up in a harness. At the Olympic level, the rifles also have rear sights. The weight of a rifle is about 3.7 kilograms. The equipment isn’t cheap. Even a beginner’s rifle will cost $1,000. The advanced rifles range up to $2,500.

HEIGHT RESTRICTIONS

Biathletes wear much of the same equipment you would see on a skier, including a ski suit that minimizes wind resistance and helps to maintain a consistent body temperature. There are restrictions. The ski poles used by a biathlete must not be longer than an athlete’s height. The skis must not be four centimeters shorter than an athlete’s height. The skis usually have generous amounts of wax to help increase speed.

HOW THOSE TARGETS WORK

When an athlete successfully hits a target, a white disc slides in front of it. The size of a target varies between the standing and prone shooting stages.

Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Paul D. Bowker is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.

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