Ski poles- the forgotten piece of biathlon equipment! Everyone always talks about skis and waxing or rifles and ammunition but we hear very little about the humble ski pole. That was until last year when a certain Ole Einar Bjoerndalen decided to use some different ones! What different poles? Surely not! Why yes there exists a different type of pole but we will come back to that later.
Firstly we must share the history of the ski pole (yes there is one!). Excitingly people have been known to use ski poles since at least 4000 B.C. Rock drawings in Norway (where else!) show a man skiing and holding a staff. Back then it seems they only used one but rumour has it that one of Bjoerndalen’s earlier ancestors decided to introduce a second pole in around 1741 and from there we evolved to modern day cross country skiing!
Ski poles come in various lengths depending on the height of the individual using them. For skating or freestyle the measurement is usually taken from the ground to your upper lip. For classic it is a shorter ski. The ski shaft can be made from carbon fibre, aluminium or fibreglass reinforced plastic. The ski has a strap at the top and a basket at the bottom. Racing straps are like a sling that cradles your hand and holds it next to your pole, even if you let it go. The basket at the bottom is attached to stop the pole from sinking significantly into deep snow. These can range from being small, aerodynamic cones used in racing, to large snowflake shaped baskets which are used in powder skiing. The ski pole also has a tip on the end. High end poles have small racing-style tips. They’re light and have sharp points for good traction.
So now we return to the choice of Ole Einar to change his ski poles. Last season he used the curved ski pole which has a curve at the top just below the strap. The manufacturers claim that these ski poles can deliver up to 20% more propulsion power with each push which helps the skier to reach maximum speed faster and maintain maximum speed for longer. Bjoerndalen himself has said that he could gain 10-15 seconds per 10 km distance and he also noticed lower levels of lactate when he skis with them. He also commented that he thinks it improves his skiing technique.
Darya Domracheva used these skis last year too. I wonder who recommended them to her! 😉 Of course she went on to win the Overall Title so they obviously don’t make you any worse! As for Bjoerndalen well he didn’t do quite so well but then he is 41 and maybe not the best test case. It is hard to judge whether they will make a huge difference to biathletes as of course you can ski as fast as you want but if you miss targets the poles can’t help you much! Any advantage you can find though is always helpful and maybe biathletes who are a great shot but struggle with ski speed will find these useful and they might improve their results.
They didn’t however change the outcome of any races last season. Domracheva would have still won with the regular ski poles mainly because she is such a fantastic skier. It will be interesting to see if any other biathletes start using the curved poles for next year. It is only when a large percentage of them decide to do this that we will really see if they give you a genuine advantage. Until that time however the biathletes will remain Poles Apart!
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