Of all the odd sports televised on the Winter Olympics, biathlon is the one I could never really figure out: athletes skiing uphill with huge effort, balancing on the most awkward-looking skis ever, then lying down in the snow and shooting a rifle at five targets, each one the size of a penny.
But if traveling has taught me anything, it’s that you should never knock something ‘til you try it. And so I did.
Whistler Olympic Park sits up in the mountains right outside the Whistler-Blackcomb resort. This was the site of the biathlon competition for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games and today, anyone visiting Whistler can go there and experience biathlon for themselves.
Biathlon originated as a discipline in Norway when military patrols combined long-distance skiing with marksmanship. Today, it’s a popular sport across the world, combining physical strength with skills of endurance and precision.
Skate-skiing was more challenging than it looks—different from both cross-country and downhill skiing. If anything, it felt like rollerblading on snow. After fifteen minutes, my thighs and shins were burning in ways I had never experienced before. There is then the added complexity of the varied movements and rhythms of skate-skiing—my instructor told me that it takes most professional athletes at least ten years to master these methods.
When I finally started feeling confident on my skis, I was brought to the second challenge of the biathlon—shooting a Russian-made rifle at a target 50 meters away. The targets are miniscule and my heavy breathing didn’t help me take aim—but, call it beginner’s luck—I actually shot bullseye on all five targets.
“Five for five!” shouted my instructor.
Thinking I needed more of a challenge, he upped the ante by taking away my gun support and having me shoot free. Once again, I shot all five.
“OK, you were in the military,” he laughed.
“Nope, never was,” I answered. And that’s the truth. Maybe after all these years of shunning sports, I finally found one that I’m good at.