All posts by biathlon23

Of Para-mount Importance.

zaripov

Everyone is talking about the Sochi Winter Olympics. Who will take home the gold? Svendsen or Fourcade? Berger or Zaitseva? Whoever wins it’s going to be exciting stuff, but please don’t forget that there are 2 Olympic Games in Sochi next year. From the 7th to the 16th of March the Paralympic Games is also taking place.

Biathlon has been a Paralympic sport since 1988 when it was introduced in the Innsbruck Games for athletes with physical impairment. Since 1992 athletes with visual impairment have also been able to compete.

The program consists of 12 events, 6 for men and 6 for women. The athletes are divided into 3 categories which are standing,for those who are able to use the same equipment as able-bodied skiers, sitting and visually impaired. Athletes in the sitting category use a sit-ski or mono-ski to compete. It consists of a fitted chair over a single ski and makes use of a suspension device to help minimize wear and tear on the athlete’s body.

Athletes who are visually impaired use an electronic rifle which allows them to aim by hearing. The increasingly louder acoustic signals emitted as the rifle is pointed towards the centre of the target mean that the athletes aim by sound instead of sight. They are also accompanied by a sighted guide and are recognised as a team by the awarding of duel medals.

The men and women compete in the Pursuit and Individual races. They also compete over the same distances, around 3km in the Pursuit and 12.5km in the Individual, apart from the women’s sitting individual which is slightly shorter at 10km.

The growth of biathlon since 1988 has been very promising. In the first year there were only 3 medal events and no female competitors. In the last Winter Olympics in Vancouver there were 12 medal events competed for by 18 different countries made up of 61 male and 34 female biathletes. The competitors come from the usual biathlon countries like Germany, Russia, Ukraine, Norway and also Canada and The U.S. amongst others.

So who should you look out for in the games next year? Well as it’s in Russia here are a couple of medal contenders for the home country. Irek Zaripov(pictured above) was born on March 27, 1983, in Sterlitamak. He lost both legs in a motorcycle accident at aged 17. He has taken part in 2 Paralympic games in Turin and Vancouver, the latter being much more successful as he won 4 gold medals and 1 silver in biathlon and cross-country skiing sitting events. He received the Order of Merit from the Russian President and he is an ambassador for the Sochi Games. In 2011 he won another 6 medals this time in the IPC Biathlon and Cross Country Skiing World Championships in Russia and therefore is one of the favourites to medal in March.

For the ladies there is fellow Russian Mikhailina Lysova. Competing in the visually impaired section she works with her guide Alexey Ivanov. Now that her nemesis Germany’s Vernea Bentele has retired Lysova has a great chance winning in Sochi. She finished 3rd in both the Pursuit and Individual in Vancouver behind Bentele but in the 2011 World Championships she won gold in both biathlon events and also silver in the relay. Her main competition will come from fellow Russian Elena Remizova so the home country can look forward to a lot of potential medals.

So please remember after you have finished cheering for your countrymen and favourites in February don’t forget to watch the Paralympic Games in March. It’s of para-mount importance!

For information about the Paralympic Games see: http://www.paralympic.org/Events/Sochi2014

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The Low-ell Down!

lowell-bailey

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with U.S biathletes here is the low down on one of them – Lowell Bailey. Born in North Carolina on July 15th 1981 Lowell moved to upstate New York as a child before settling in Lake Placid at the age of ten. Another cross-country skier turned biathlete he qualified for the Junior World Championship Biathlon Team in 1999. He has a degree in Political Science and Environmental Studies as well as being a musician.

In fact many of you probably know him from some of the videos on biathlonworld.com where he can be seen playing his guitar and singing. He was also in the “Biathlon House Band” in the Spy Who Loved Biathlon along with Gabriela Soukalova, Jean-Phillipe Le Guellec and Jean-Guillame Beatrix. Growing up in a family full of musicians including his father, uncle and various cousins it’s no surprise that Lowell can also play the mandolin and has been in a band called The George Bailey Trio and appeared in a bluegrass band called “Stacked Deck”.

In between tunes he is also still a competing biathlete! Last year saw him finish 28th in the Total Score, 19th in the Pursuit standings and helped the U.S Men’s Team to a 10th place finish in the Nation’s Cup. His best result last season was a 7th in the Sprint in Antholtz, backed up by two 10th places in the Pursuit in Khanty and Hochfilzen. His career best results came in the 2011/12 season with two 5th place finishes in the Sprint events in Kontiolahti and Oestersund.

So what can we expect from Lowell next season? Having seen his teammate and good friend Tim Burke do so well last year both on the World Cup and in the World Championships he must be aiming to emulate his success. A first podium finish must be one of his goals for next year and an improvement in the Total Score standings. The Olympics is coming up in Sochi and some good Top Ten finishes there would be great for Lowell and you never know what can happen after Burke’s silver in Nove Mesto. However the competition in men’s biathlon is extremely strong but with the shooting element involved anything can happen.

Outside of biathlon I think we are all expecting some sort of Olympic song to inspire the U.S Team from Lowell after his previous biathlon inspired ‘hit’ Fire Them Down! If he does go on to release a solo album he could do worse than to call it The Low-ell Down!!! 😉

Good luck for next season Lowell and don’t spend too much time alone in your room with that guitar!

Check out Lowell’s website: http://lowellbailey.com
you can find links to his music there on Myspace.

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Biathletes vs. Bikes

alexis

The bicycle: You may think it’s just an object used to keep fit and enjoy yourself but to biathletes they are becoming an increasing danger. Unfortunately in the battle of biathletes vs. bikes it seems as though the bikes are winning!

Many biathletes turn to the bike as an integral part of their summer training. It is great for improving fitness and stamina and it doesn’t put a lot of pressure on the hips or knees. However some of them seem to have forgotten that they are not Chris Froome and are succumbing to more and more accidents.

One of the worst bike accidents was probably that of Czech biathlete Jaroslav Soukop last year. Whilst training with his teammates he went over the handlebars of his bike and hit his right shoulder, head and arm. This resulted in cerebral concussion and lumbar spine injuries and also required an operation to reset two breaks in his right arm. It was feared he would miss the whole of last season but made a miraculous recovery and returned mid-season. He was able to compete in his home World Championships in Nove Mesto where he won a bronze medal in the Mixed Relay.

soukop

This summer’s training has also seen a spate of biking accidents. Miriam Gössner had an accident while training in Norway in which she fractured four lumbar vertebrae and will miss a good deal of training and possibly the beginning of the season. Selina Gasparin injured her foot in Greece and spent a few weeks in a removable cast but thankfully it was not too serious.

So are any of our intrepid athletes fighting back? Well I would like to put forward Alexis Boeuf as a champion for the biathletes. To be honest he looks like he could be a professional bike racer. He can often be seen cycling up very high mountains and seems to really love cycling rather than just doing it as a means of training. Actually the French are doing pretty well with their bikes as Simon Fourcade is now sponsored by a bike company (well they are giving him a load of free stuff anyway). Martin also uses a bike regularly in his summer training.

The bicycle: A great way to train but also an easy way to get a serious injury. My advice to the biathletes would be to get some training about descending from hills and mountains. Not a lot of people get injured cycling uphill but coming down at high speed is not an easy skill. Maybe if they ask their” local” cycling professionals for a bit of help things might go better. Soukop can have a word with Roman Kreuziger, Gössner with Marcel Kittel, Gasparin with Fabian Cancellara and Alexis Boeuf can challenge Cristophe Riblon and Pierre Roland to a race up Alpe D’ Huez! 😉

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Almoukov:The Blizzard of Oz!

Almoukov

When you think about Australia the first things that come to mind are sun, sea, sand, barbeques, corks on hats and deadly animals. If you think about Australian sport you might come up with Aussies Rules, Rugby Union, cricket and surfing. What doesn’t immediately spring to mind though is biathlon.

Biathlon I hear you cry! But it doesn’t even snow in Australia so how can they do biathlon? Well it does and they do! Not only that but they also have athletes who compete on the IBU World Cup. One in particular made history last season by becoming the first Australian male biathlete to finish in the Top 40 and score World Cup points. His name is Alex Almoukov.

Yes I know what you are thinking, Almoukov? Isn’t that a Russian name? Well of course it is and in fact Alex was born in Russia in Solobo to Russian parents and moved to Australia when he was six. Let’s face it it’s no bad thing to be Russian if you want to do biathlon! But he competes for Australia and considers it his home having spent the majority of his life there.

The 23 year old has recently graduated from University and is a fellow WordPress blogger. You can follow him here and on Facebook. It is an interesting insight into how the other half live. By the other half I mean the biathletes who struggle to get sponsorship and funding rather than the more fortunate who get a lot of support (you can find them at the top of all the standings!). It’s not easy when you compete for one of the countries whose Winter Sports teams are not well supported. Travel costs are high as are equipment costs especially ammunition.

Alex seems to progressing really well despite all of these hardships. He took part in the last Olympics and has shown good improvement especially in the Individual event. However it’s not easy to gain experience on the World Cup circuit as competition is fierce and chances to race are limited due to only the Top 60 or Top 30 being able to start the Pursuit and Mass-Start respectively.

This year the Australian team have been able to go to Russia for some summer training which will be a great help. Unfortunately if you are an Australian biathlete you tend to live in eternal winter. You spend winter in Europe competing and go home where it’s winter again. On the plus side you can spend the “summer” training skiing on real snow in Australia in places like Whisky Flats rather than on roller skis.

So what about next season for Alex? Well he did pretty well in Sochi last season so I am sure he will want to improve on his placing there in the Olympics. A good season for him I think will be to build on his progress from last year and try to break into the Top 40 more often. So next time you are watching biathlon look out for Alex and cheer on The Blizzard of Oz!

You can find Alex on Facebook or read his blog http://almoukov.wordpress.com.

For more information on Australian biathlon see http://www.biathlon.asn.au/

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Funding Biathlon: Not so Great, Britain!

British-Olympic-Association

Biathlon is not exactly Britain’s most popular sport. Actually if you asked the average Briton they probably couldn’t tell you what it is. However this does mean that it doesn’t have any biathletes, it just means that they don’t give them any help. The best known of these are Lee Jackson, Kevin Kane and Amanda Lightfoot. They are not the only ones though. Amongst the ranks of the British Biathlon Union, the national governing body for biathlon in the U.K, are Scott Dixon, Marcel Laponder, Adele Walker and Nerys Jones to name but a few.

The BBU is funded by sponsors, the IBU, the Army Winter Sports Association and by the athletes themselves. It is run on voluntary basis and the paid staff consists of a Secretary General and a wax technician. They have no performance director or any support staff who are paid. There is no support for biathlon from any of Britain’s main sports bodies or any National Lottery funding.

Why is this? Well for all the talk of a lasting legacy in sport after the London Olympics this only seems to apply to sports that have “podium potential”. So basically if you get a medal you can have some more money. As far as I am concerned this is completely the wrong way round and leaves a lot of Winter Sports stuck in a vicious circle. If you have won a medal it seems to me that you are doing pretty well as it is with the funding you have.

Surely it would be better to give sports like biathlon more money to give them a chance to catch up with the likes of curling and skeleton. How are you supposed to improve if you are not funded? All you end up with is a couple of sports who might provide a medal and a lot that end up struggling. You would think that money could be given to sports like biathlon to give them a chance to see what they could do even on a trial basis or on a sliding scale depending on each year’s results on the IBU Cup and World Cup instead of basing everything on Olympic performances.

Another thing that could be improved is the amount of races that the British Biathletes, and those from other countries with the same issues, have to compete in. On the IBU World Cup you have to finish in the Top 60 to qualify to compete in the Pursuit race, and you must be ranked in the Top 30 to take part in the Mass Start. So if you have a World Cup round where there is a Sprint, Pursuit and Mass Start if you don’t make it into the Top 60 and you are not ranked in the Top 30 overall you could find yourself travelling to places like Khanty- Mansiysk or Kontiolahti to take part in one race. This can be expensive if you are not well funded and is hardly going to give you valuable experience on the World Cup especially if you are a young athlete.

Maybe they could think about introducing a B race for the Pursuit where the Top 5 or 10 finishers are guaranteed to take part in the next Pursuit A race to give them an incentive to race for. Or maybe they could re-introduce the Team race for the lower ranked countries and reward them with some funding rather than points. I imagine these suggestions might be difficult to put on the schedule and cause logistical difficulties but I am sure the fans wouldn’t complain as you would get more races to see each day.

As it stands at the moment the BBU and the athletes themselves have done a remarkable job to have achieved what they have done so far. However the lack of funding, assistance and interest in biathlon from the Sports funding bodies especially after a successful summer Olympic campaign means that you are not so Great, Britain!

For more information on British Biathlon:
http://www.britishbiathlon.com/
For information on the biathletes:
http://britishbiathlon.blogspot.co.uk/
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Update as of January 2014: Good news on the funding. The BBU has a new sponsor, Aspen Healthcare Solutions, for the next 4 years securing funds until the Winter Olympics in 2018!

Ferry Good!

ferry

Biathlete, environmentalist, gold medal winner, father, part time Christmas tree decorator and M16 Quartermaster, Björn Ferry is one of the most unique characters currently on the World Cup Tour. Born on August 1st 1978 in Stensele, Sweden he began competing internationally in World Cup competitions in 2001.

However it took him about 6 years to win his first international race in the 2007/2008 season. He then went on to win gold in the mixed relay event at the Biathlon World Championships in 2007, bronze in the mixed relay in 2010 and silver in the Mass Start in 2012. He also won an Olympic Gold in the Pursuit event in Vancouver 2010 coming from an 8th place start to take the victory.

Married to multiple World Championship winning arm wrestler Heidi Andersson, Bjorn now has a young son and lives in Storuman in the North of Sweden. His love of the environment and in particular his “deep rooted” love of trees led him to buy some land with its own forest and so he can indulge in one of his favourite activities- counting trees! His lists his other interests as hunting, heavy metal music and politics as well as his strong beliefs on the environment.

Ferry has never been scared of sharing his opinion and has been especially outspoken on the subject of doping within the sport. He was highly critical of the Russian athletes in 2009 and made his feelings pretty clear at the last Olympics on what he felt about people caught doping

Last season wasn’t the best for Ferry or indeed any of the Swedish team. With no wins all season and no podium in their home race in Ostersund the Swedish coach unsurprisingly resigned. With only 1 medal in Nove Mesto coming from Lindstrom, a bronze in the Individual, what are Ferry and the team’s hopes in Sochi?

Well you don’t just become a bad athlete overnight and everyone can have a difficult season. Finishing 6th in the Individual standings last year and current holder of an Olympic gold you can’t rule Bjorn out of an individual medal in Sochi. Elsewhere there may be chances of a medal in the Relay event too as there is still a lot of talent in the Swedish squad. Don’t forget that that Björn is still a Ferry Good biathlete!

http://www.bjornferry.com/

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Gold in her Zaits?

zaitseva

It’s a huge year for all the Russian biathletes but Olga Zaitseva probably has a little bit more pressure on her shoulders than the others. She is by far the most experienced biathlete in the team and she was the top female Russian in the Total Score last year coming 11th overall. Therefore the team will be looking to her to deliver medals in Sochi.

Olga Alekseyevna Zaitseva was born on May 16th, 1978 in Moscow. She began her career in 1994 and has won 2 Olympic gold medals, both in the relay, and a silver in the Mass Start in Vancouver. In the World Championships she has 3 gold, 2 silver and 3 bronze medals.

However a pretty dismal display in last year’s World Championship by the Russian team (with the exception of Shipulin) doesn’t bode very well for their chances in Sochi. Surely next season is all about peaking for Sochi and I would have though the World Championships would be the perfect practice for getting that right. In the end it meant the sacking of yet another coach, the third in 3 years for the Russian Biathlon Union.

So what does this mean for Olga? Well she has the hopes of a nation on her shoulders and she showed quite good form in Sochi back in March when she was second in the Individual event. A first place in Oberhof in the Pursuit and a third place in the Mass Start in Ruhpolding means she is capable of beating the other women on any given day. The biggest hurdle will be producing the performance when it counts – at her home Olympics.

At the moment it looks as if Russia’s best chance for gold will come in the relay events but if Olga can produce her top form next February she will also have a chance of an individual medal possibly in the 15km Individual or the Mass Start. Whatever my assessment of her chances I’m sure that Olga definitely has gold in her Zaits!

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