The biathlon is the only returning Winter Olympics event in which the United States has never won a medal. But that could change! Tim Burke, who won a silver medal in the individual 20km at the 2013 Biathlon World Championships, is our best hope yet.
But Burke shouldn't be the only reason to watch the biathlon. It's exciting! Every biathlon event is a medal event. No qualifiers, no semifinals. It's just one race per event. So you've only got 11 chances to catch biathlon fever. Here's a helpful primer:
The biathlon combines cross-country skiing and shooting, which are two very different disciplines. There will be 11 biathlon events this year: the men's and women's sprint, pursuit, individual, mass start and relay; and the mixed relay, a new event. Depending on the event, biathletes ski a few 2 or 2.5 km loops (or whatever the length of the 2.5 km loop is these days – they just had to add another 40 meters when the Norwegian team noticed it was too short), then stop to shoot at five targets from either a standing or prone position. Miss the target, and you'll either have a minute added to your race time or have to ski a penalty lap.
So it's really important to hit those targets, but that's difficult when you're in the middle of an endurance race. You have to calm down and be steady enough to hit a 1.8-inch or 4.5-inch target 50 meters away, but you have to do it as quickly as possible or risk falling behind.
Men and women do the same races, but women's distances are slightly shorter. For those of you who aren't into metric, one kilometer is equal to 0.62 miles:
- Sprint: 10 km for men, 7.5 km for women. Two shoots: One standing, one prone.
- Pursuit: 12.5 km for men, 10 km for women. Four shoots: two standing and two prone. Start times are based on sprint results, so a bad finish in the sprint can doom you here.
- Individual: 20 km for men, 15 km for women. Four shoots: two standing and two prone. Miss a target and you get a one minute penalty, which can be a killer.
- Mass Start: 15 km for men, 12.5 km for women. Four shoots: two standing and two prone.
- Relay: 4 x 7.5 km for men, 4 x 6 km for women. Two shoots per leg (one standing, one prone)
- Mixed relay: First two legs are women, 6 km each. Last two are men, 7.5 km each. Two shoots per leg.
Tim Burke is our best hope, but there's also fellow three-time Olympian Lowell Bailey and Susan Dunklee, whose 4th place finish at the Antholz sprint was the best-ever World Cup finish for an American woman. And we've got our heartwarming underdog story in Lanny Barnes, whose twin sister Tracy gave up her spot on the team last month so she could compete.
Annelies Cook, Hannah Dreissigacker and Sara Studebaker round out the women's team, while Russell Currier, Sean Doherty and Leif Nordgren round out the men's team.
Norway's Ole Einar Bjøerndalen, 40, is competing in his sixth Olympics. He already has 11 medals (six of them gold), and two more will make him the most successful Winter Olympian in history. He'll have to beat fellow Norwegian Emil Hegle Svensen and France's Martin Fourcade.
For the women, Norway's Tora Berger, Ukraine's Olena Pidrushna and Belarus' Darya Domracheva are favorites. You won't be seeing Russia's Irina Starykh, though: the medal contender was kicked out last month after testing positive for doping. Scandal!
You're not going to see much biathlon on NBC's primetime airwaves, so your best bet is the livestream. Fortunately, all biathlon events start in the evening, Sochi time, so you don't have to wake up in the middle of the night to see them in America. One more reason to watch!
- Feb 8: Men's Sprint 9:30 a.m. (Recap)
- Feb 9: Women's Sprint 9:30 a.m. (Recap)
- Feb. 10: Men's Pursuit 10 a.m. (Recap)
- Feb. 11: Women's Pursuit 10 a.m. (Recap)
- Feb. 13: Men's Individual 9 a.m. (Recap)
- Feb. 14: Women's Individual 9 a.m. (Recap)
- Feb. 16: Men's Mass Start 10 a.m. (Recap)
- Feb. 17: Women's Mass Start 10 a.m. (Recap)
- Feb. 19: Mixed Relay 9:30 a.m. (Recap)
- Feb. 21: Women's Relay 9:30 a.m. (Recap)
- Feb 22: Men's Relay 9:30 a.m. (Recap)