NewsCity-Biathlon in Püttlingen

FasterSkier FasterSkierAugust 3, 2008

Saarland state in Southwest Germany has never been known as a haven for winter sports. Still, the world biathlon elite will gather in Püttlingen this summer for the third time, when the 3rd City Biathlon on August 12 attracts many world champions and Olympic medalists. The 1.5 km circular course goes straight through the city center, and the athletes will compete on roller-skis. This event is the only one of its kind in the world: using original small calibre rifles, competitors will shoot at a firing range that will be erected on Püttlingen’s Burgplatz square. Just a few meters away, 3,500 spectators will be cheering for the top stars of the biathlon scene. “The atmosphere is magnificent,” says Ole Einar Björndalen, who has already started twice in Saarland.

Several years ago, the Saarland state government hatched the idea. Inspired by the one-day round of the Tour de France and the inline skating World Cup competition, the government began looking for unusual sports to brand their state as a sports location. At the end of 2003 they began planning the ‘Summer Biathlon’ project. They quickly located a host venue with an enthusiastic city council in the town of Püttlingen, situated 15 km west of Saarbrücken. Soon the Saarland State Minister of Internal Affairs and Sports, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, signed on as the event’s patron. The Saarland Mountaineering and Cross-Country Skiing Association led the sports planning side, and the agency Niedermeier+ Marketing PR Events GmbH from Saarbrücken took charge of project management and realization.

It took almost two years of preparation for roller-skiing and shooting to be held in Püttlingen for the first time. The main problem was obtaining a permit to build a small-caliber shooting range between rows of houses and supermarkets. How to make the construction safe? Bullet-proof glass? Boarded-up shipping containers? Heaped-up mounds of earth? Following endless statistical calculations and rejected options, the event organizers settled upon a scaffolding construction covered with protective plating and reinforced with steel plates. An experienced and innovative scaffold-builder gave them his assurance that the project could and would be completed punctually. But several event organizers and towns had already failed at similar projects in recent years, and the Saarland locals had to fight skepticism from both athletes and functionaries in the biathlon scene. Undaunted, the organizers promoted the summer competition in Püttlingen from the sideline at numerous World Cups, and were finally able to start the project’s realization phase.

The City Biathlon premiere came on June 19, 2005, with elite athletes racing and shooting in front of 10,000 spectators in the stadium and along the course. Michael Greis stayed ahead of Halvard Hanevold and Ole Einar Björndalen, and Kati Wilhelm beat out Sabrina Buchholz and Nathalie Santer. But the event’s organizational baptism-by-fire was more important than the big-name winners. The shooting range with its customized safety design was approved with no objections by the state government, and the organization and the sporting side also went flawlessly. The athletes were enthusiastic about the event, which gave them the opportunity for lots of shooting bouts, direct contact with fans, seeing their biathlete friends for the first time since the World Cup circus, and optimal service with an airport pick-up and partner program.

By the second City Biathlon in August 2006, the event had become more professional. A television unit produced a 90-minute biathlon spot from Püttlingen, which was shown live on EUROSPORT and on delayed broadcast in Norway (on NRK). The starting field featured even more prominent athletes, such as Sven Fischer, Sandrine Bailly, Florence Baverel-Robert and Vincent Defrasne, along with the “regulars”— Greis, Wilhelm, Björndalen, Hanevold and Frode Andresen. Despite the rainy weather, the number of spectators increased to 12,500. The event had made a breakthrough. “City Biathlon is now one of the most important events on Saarland’s sporting calendar, giving our state a worldwide reputation,” says Minister of Internal Affairs and Sports, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer.

The 3rd City Biathlon on August 12, 2007 will be a rendezvous for many German and international biathlon icons. Expect Andrea Henkel, Kathrin Hitzer, Kati Wilhelm, Sandrine Bailly, Tora Berger and Helena Jonsson on the women’s side, and Michael Greis, Andy Birnbacher, Michael Rösch, Ivan Tcherzov, Björn Ferry, Christoph Sumann, Halvard Hanevold and Vincent Defrasne for the men. This year, the summer spectacle supported by the IBU and the DSV (the German Sports Federation) will display some great new features. Festivities will kick off the evening before the race with the presentation of athletes in the center of Saarbrücken. The race course, in the heart of Püttlingen, has been modified to be even more attractive— since now the competitors will have to face a real ascent for the first time. In addition, the straightaway before the finish line has been moved so that the spectators on the grandstand are even closer to the action at the finish. The mode of competition has also been changed: a qualifying race featuring three laps of skiing and three shooting bouts will open both the women’s and the men’s competition. The shooting facility has been extended to fit eight lanes, since eight athletes will be starting in each respective race. In the final, the women will complete five laps of skiing with four shooting bouts, and the men seven laps with six shooting bouts.

Fans can expect a special show between the qualifying rounds and the final, when famous former biathlon stars will measure their skills in an “All-Star” race. This race will be a reunion of Olympic medalists, world champions, and the best “precious metal collectors” of recent years. Raphael and Liv-Grete Poirée, Ricco Groß, Sven Fischer and Kathrin Apel will all be starting. This year, the German ZDF channel will broadcast live and produce the event to World Cup standards, and broadcasters from Russia and Norway will also be covering the races. Thousands of biathlon supporters from all around Germany and Europe will travel to Saarland to experience their stars live and up close. Many IBU Partners such as HoRa, Siwidata, DMS roller-skis and Lapua will be there providing services. “With this event, we are going to prove that the vision of a biathlon competition in a city center is no joke, despite all the doomsday prophecies, and that a spectacular sports event that is unique worldwide can be achieved by personal involvement, energy, creativity and professional planning,” declares Martin Speicher, the Mayor of Püttlingen.

Source: Biathlon World


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