In preparation for the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, WBBM’s Rick Gregg spoke with experts in each of four sports in a series of interviews for WBBMNewsradio.com. Today: Mike Larsen, Director of the Wisconsin Biathlon Association.
CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) — It is, in Mike Larsen’s words, “the most rigorous sport on the planet.”
It is the Biathlon.
“Pretty much everyone’s going to be running red-line all the time when you’re racing, and then you’re supposed to get into a shooting range and be perfectly calm. It’s a big ask,” said Larsen, the Director of the Wisconsin Biathlon Association and a competitor himself.
That contrast in styles is what keeps him on the course.
“You have to prepare yourself before you come into the range,” he said. “We don’t actually come into the range relaxed and ready to take a nap. We practice coming to the range at high heart rates. During the offseason when we can’t ski we will run trails, and then come to the range just as if we were skiing and practice our shooting under those conditions. You have to do something to get to a point where you’re comfortable and not relying so much on very fine motor control skills.”
Of course, you also have to ski fast. And if you miss a target on the range and have to run a penalty lap, things can go sour fast.
“Catching up 20- to 25-seconds to a skier that’s at your level can be difficult,” Larsen said. “Some of the top skiers in the world – and you see this in the World Cup and the Olympics – can make up a lot of time in one lap. However, if you end up in a total meltdown situation in the range, where your sights are off, where the wind is terrible, and you’re missing three or four…that tends to push you out of the podium for sure.”And don’t underestimate that wind. he harder it blows, the wilder the sport gets.
“You always shoot prone first, and then standing toward the end of the race. Which makes it exciting because you’re more fatigued. And that’s where the wind really comes in, because the wind will actually push you and the rifle around. You’re trying to hit a target that’s 50 meters away, so the wind can blow you way off target, very easily.”
The Wisconsin Biathlon Association is the only organization within 150 miles of Chicago promoting the sport. Overseas, it’s a different story.
“Biathlon in Europe is the largest spectator winter sport,” Larsen said. “Biathlon is a prime time sport in Europe.”
That’s because of its roots as a military competition in Russia, Germany and Scandinavia. In fact, no North American man has ever won a medal in any biathlon event at the Winter Olympics, and only one woman has – Canada’s Myriam Bédard, 24 years ago.
There are four Biathlon courses in Wisconsin, two of which are brand new. The closest is in Eagle, about an hour over the state border from Illinois.
And per Larsen, people make the trip:
“We have a lot of members in the northern Illinois area, so that’s not really that far of a drive,” he said.
Aspiring biathletes can sign up for the Wisconsin Biathlon Association’s mailing list at www.wisconsinbiathlon.com.