Tag Archives: Biathlon Mass Start

Rise of the Sprinter?

No it is not the next Terminator film but it could spell the end for some! You may have noticed that recently the IBU have been testing some new race formats. The only one to reach World Cup level so far is the single mixed relay but there are races currently on the IBU Cup that could be gracing our TV screens soon at the top level.

The super sprint is one of them and it involves a short 3km sprint race followed by a short 5km mass start for the top 30 finishers. Note the entire race distance is 8km which is shorter than the 10km men’s sprint and only half a kilometre longer than the 7.5km women’s sprint.

The single mixed relay is raced over a distance of 13.5km in total with each leg being just 1.5 km. The mixed relay is 27km long, the women’s relay 24km and the men’s relay 30km.

So what am I getting at here? – biathlon races are getting shorter!

Why are they getting shorter? Well a few reasons really I suppose. The first is that these shortened events tend to be more exciting and better for the TV schedules. They are also a reaction to the fact that nowadays the modern viewer has a shorter attention span and there is a culture of wanting instant gratification.

And of course the shorter the race the closer the finish is likely to be! Less distance to race means that the faster skiers can’t build up as much of a lead and so any mistakes on the range from the front runners are more likely to be punished. It makes for great drama and compelling viewing.

So what does this mean for the sport?

Well firstly it could spell the end for some of the current races and the most likely casualty is the individual. It’s the longest race on the World Cup. It is 20km for the men and 15km for the women. It is against the clock so there isn’t the excitement and action that the head to head races bring and if there is a big field of competitiors it can take quite a long time from start to finish. However it is also the oldest event in biathlon and probably the best test of a biathletes skill. Incidentally the IBU have also introduced a shorter verion of the individual with a 45 second penalty and a 12.5km distance for women and 15km for men.

Another way that this race shortening could change the sport is with the athletes themselves. Will they need to change how they train? The newer events look more like a series of intervals rather than pure stamina events. Will they have to adjust to become sprinters rather than long distance racers? Could we see the end of training such as the bike rides up the mountains of Europe and roller skiing great distances around the countryside? Will the slow-twitch muscles have to be replaced by the fast-twitch muscles for these short speedy events?

On the other hand another of the new races is the mass start 60 which is a big version of the current mass start with 60 racers instead of the usual 30. There is no change in distance but it is reflective of the fact that head to head races are more popular with the fans. Let’s face it they are more entertaining!

What will happen in the future?

Interestingly the super sprint was on the schedule for the World Cup in Holmenkollen this season but the IBU recently announced that it would not go ahead and the traditional sprint and pursuit would be held instead. After a recent evaluation meeting involving the Technical and Athletes Committees several rule changes have been proposed and so further tests will be carried out on the IBU Cup. Despite this delay it looks like it will be heading to the World Cup at some point in the future.

So could we see a big change to the biathlon events in the next few years? Will the individual disappear? Will the sprint be replaced by the super sprint? Could they change the super sprint to a sprint + pursuit (instead of a mass start) and lose the pursuit race itself? Could the relays all be cut so that we have the single mixed relay, a short men’s and a short women’s relay instead of the long ones?

Who knows? This is all speculation but it does seem to be the way the sport is heading. Is it the right thing to do? Will the fans like it? I don’t know but it’s will be interesting to see how biathlon changes in the coming years.

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Credit to ex-biathlete Brian Halligan (USA) for the inspiration for this article. 🙂

SUPER SPRINT!

Disclaimer: It’s possible that none of the following information is correct!

Well, well, well the IBU have decided to surprise us once again by trialling a new competition. Over the last few years we have been getting used to the Single Mixed Relay and now we have the Super Sprint!

“What is that?” I hear you cry! Well it is a Sprint that is Super. That explains that! It doesn’t of course but it not that easy to find any information about it. It just appeared as if by magic on the new race calendar for 2017/18. If you look up the dates for the IBU Cup you will find on the 13th of March in Khanty-Mansisyk ‘Super Sprint Men’ and ‘Super Sprint Women’ scheduled for that day.

In true detective style (that’s in the style of a true detective rather than the style of the detectives from the TV Show of the same name) I have done some undercover work and here’s what I found out.

The Super Sprint comes in two parts. The first is like the regular sprint race with a few changes and instead of using it as a qualification for the Pursuit it will be qualification for a Mass Start.

So the first part will be like a time trial with 15 seconds between each biathlete instead of the 30 in the normal sprint. There will still be three skiing legs with both a prone and standing shoot. However the ski distance will be shortened to between 800-1200 metres for each leg.

The biathlete will have 3 extra rounds, like in the relays, to hit the 5 targets. If they fail to hit all 5 targets with all their bullets they will be out of the race.

Those left will be ranked, I presume according to their speed in finishing the sprint, and will go on to contest the Mass Start. The Mass Start will be like the regular Mass Start with 5 ski legs and 4 shoots but will also be over a shorter distance. The only difference is if you don’t clear all the targets with all your bullets, again including spares, you are out of the race. Although if everyone misses I don’t know what happens! Probably just chaos! 😉

Hopefully this new format will allow some different biathletes to qualify for a Mass Start race. Normally it is just the Top 25 in the Total Score and 5 others who have performed the best at each World or IBU Cup round who qualify for it. This means that there are many biathletes who have never raced a Mass Start.

If they can do well in the Sprint qualifying they can get a chance. Since you are out of the race if you don’t hit all the targets it will also be a good thing for the better shooters among the biathletes. There won’t be an opportunity to ski yourself out of trouble. The usual suspects will probably still be on the podium but if others get a chance to show what they can do it would be a good thing.

I believe they do already have this type of race at the Blink Festival and I think in Puttlingen and the Race of Champions but they are just exhibition events rather than official IBU races.

It is not yet clear how many biathletes will qualify for the Mass Start but I think it will be the normal 30. There are many questions still to be answered on the exact details of the race but I am sure they will be cleared up nearer the time.

The question I would like to ask is why are they doing it at all? Does biathlon need another type of race? Can they fit them all into the schedule?

Currently on the World Cup we have around 3 or 4 Individual races and 2 Single Mixed Relays. The schedule is dominated by the Sprint races and Pursuits. Will they reduce the number of Pursuits to accommodate the Super Sprints? Or will they replace the Mass Starts with these new two part races?

Who knows! It’s just a trial for now. However biathlon does need to move with the times and it is a growing sport. People like the action packed races more and so maybe the time trials will be less and less frequent in the future.

There is a lot of competition from other winter sports for audiences. Cross country has brought in the Sprint races and they are very popular(even I like them!). Alpine now has the parallel slalom that can take place in the city. Biathlon has to keep evolving and try to win over new fans so this new concept is worth a try.

It will be interesting to watch and see what happens.

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