Biathlon is an Olympic winter sport, which combines competitive, free-technique cross-country skiing and small-bore rifle marksmanship. The word competition is used in Biathlon instead of race because it is not only a race, but a combination of two different disciplines.
Cross-country racing requires intense, full-out physical exertion over an extended period of time, while shooting demands extremely fine control and stability. When athletes arrive at the shooting range, they have to shoot at a very small target, with a racing heartbeat and heaving chest because the clock is running even while they are shooting.
Biathlon is classed as a life sport because it has had, and still has, an application in everyday living. Cave drawings found in Norway, dating back some 5000 years, give us the earliest record of skiing and carrying a weapon for hunting or fighting. Historical records from Asia also tell of "winged horses" on the feet of hunters in pursuit of game animals over snow. The first historically recorded Biathlon competition took place near the Swedish-Norwegian border in 1767, between companies of border guards from the two countries. Generally, development of Biathlon continued through hunting and warfare until it became a demonstration sport in the first Olympic Winter Games in 1924 in Chamonix, France under the name of Military Patrol. Since then, Biathlon has undergone many dramatic changes, including admission into the Olympic Games as Biathlon in 1960 in Squaw Valley and a change to small-bore rifles (.22 in) in 1978. Although women competed in Biathlon for many years, women’s competitions did not become part of the Olympic Winter Games until the1992 Games in Albertville. Modern day highlights of Biathlon history are presented as follows:
1948 – Union Internationale de Pentathlon Modern (UIPM) founded
1953 – Biathlon becomes an activity in UIPM
1954 – IOC accepts Biathlon
1956 – Rules for Biathlon competitions are approved and UIPM recognizes member federations for both sports.
1958 – First Biathlon World Championships
1960 – Men's 20 km Individual competition held in Olympic Winter Games, Squaw Valley
1968 – Relay competition in Olympic Winter Games, Grenoble, added to UIPMB
1978 – Change to small bore (.22 inch caliber) rifles
1980 – Sprint competition in Olympic Winter Games,
1984 – First Women's World Championships, Chamonix, FRA
1989 – Joint World Championships for Men and Women, and separately for Junior Men and Junior Women, in Feistritz, AUT and Voss, NOR respectively
1991 – Biathlon added to the Canada Games Program in Charlottetown, PEI
1992 – Women in Olympic Winter Games, Albertville
1993 - International Biathlon Union (IBU) founded in London, GBR
1996 - First Summer Biathlon World Championships, Feistritz, AUT
1997 - Pursuit competition in World Championships and World Cup events
1998 - IBU final separation from UIPMB in Salzburg, AUT; recognition of IBU as an International Federation by the IOC, Mass Start becomes an official competition.
1999 - Pursuit competition accepted in the Olympic program, Team competition removed from World Championships.
2002 - The Pursuit would be first added to the Olympic Program in 2002 (Salt Lake City, USA)
2006 - The Mass Start was first seen at the Olympic Games in 2006 (Torino, ITA).
2010 – The Mixed Relay was first seen at the Olympic Games in 2010 (Vancouver, CAN)
From a Canadian perspective, the most significant highlights began with the participation of a Canadian Biathlon team at the 1968 Olympic Winter Games in Grenoble, France. The next time Canadians competed in Biathlon in the Olympics was at the Calgary Games in 1988 – twenty years later. In notable performances, Myriam Bédard put Canada on the world map when she won a bronze medal at the Albertville Games in 1992, which was also the first time women competed in Biathlon in the Olympics. Myriam became a Canadian and world heroine when she astoundingly won two gold medals, in both the individual and sprint competitions, at the 1994 Lillehammer Olympic Winter Games, and became the first woman ever to do so.
For the period between Lillehammer and Nagano Biathlon Canada went through a rebuilding phase, sending a team of 4 women and 3 men to the 1998 Olympic Games. In 2002 the sole athlete to attend the Olympic Games was male athlete Robin Clegg who was able to capitalize on the opportunity by posting the best Olympic result in 8 years with his 28th position in the 20km Individual event.
Fortunes began to rise going into the 2006 Torino Olympics. Canada qualified a full women’s team and sent three men. Veterans Robin Clegg (ON) and David Leoni (AB) were joined by then junior Jean Philippe Le Guellec (QC) who had just won a third place at the 2006 World Junior Championships. The women’s team was lead by Zina Kocher (AB) with a 27th in the 15km Individual, plus Sandra Keith (AB), Martine Albert (QC), and Marie-Pierre Parent (QC).
Following the 2006 season Canadian Biathletes began flexing their muscle on the international stage. Zina picked up a third place and multiple top 10 finishes on the World Cup. Sandra, Robin, and Jean-Philippe all posted their own top 10 results. At the 2010 OWG in Vancouver, Jean Philippe was able to produce the best ever male results at a OWG with a 6th place in the Sprint and two more results in the top 12. He was joined by Robin Clegg (ON), Brendan Green (NT), and Marc-André Bédard (QC) for a Canadian best-ever 10th place relay result. On the women’s side Zina was joined by Megan Tandy (BC), Sandra Keith (AB), and Rosanna Crawford (AB).
The Sochi OWG in 2014 brought some of the best overall Canadian results yet with Jean-Philippe Le Guellec placing 5th in the Sprint and Brendan Green and Nathan Smith both having top 11 results as well.