INNSBRUCK, Austria — With attempts to come up with new and more exciting formats for biathlon failing, as evidenced by a “Super Sprint Mixed Relay” test event in Oslo that ended up turning out not that different than a normal mixed relay, the International Biathlon Union (IBU) turned to the National Rifle Association (NRA) for help.
And so a new event was born, inspired by the divisive “Stand Your Ground” laws that the NRA has peddled to state legislatures around the U.S. and which certainly have many more American fans than biathlon does.
Relays may already be one of the most exciting biathlon formats, but they are about to get even more exciting. In the final shooting stage, anchor skiers will be able to take aim at competitors who outshoot them on the range.
“Shooting has always been a very important part of biathlon,” Ulrich Untersee, the IBU Vice President of Competition, told FasterSkier in an exclusive interview. “But sometimes the best shooters have been able to get away with being slower skiers because they don’t have to ski as many penalty loops. Now, they will have an incentive to train harder on the rollerskis in the summer, because the other shooters will be out to get them. If they can hit them, of course.”
Untersee is still working out the specifics of the format, but all anchor-leg skiers will be provided with bulletproof vests, that’s a start.
“They might just get the wind knocked out of them,” he said. “It’s not going to be like one of those joke YouTube videos.”
All competitors must still unload their first five bullets into the targets, he explained. It is when they move to extra rounds, which are only available in the relay format, when things should get interesting.
“I would certainly consider fast-and-accurate shooting on the range in a World Cup race to be something you should defend yourself against,” he said, echoing the language of the laws. “If you have a reasonable belief that another team is going to beat your team, of course you are going to do everything you can to stand up to them. Usually this has just meant skiing fast or playing head games. We’re putting more tools on the table.”
The NRA is thrilled with the partnership.
“We’ve been considering promoting biathlon for years,” marketing minion Tire Z. Balle told FasterSkier. “We think this is what the sport needs in order to really catch on in the U.S., and then we hope we might draw more athletic types into our membership. And it’s a great opportunity to share some American culture with the rest of the world.”
Stand Your Ground-type laws are also on the books in Germany.