LITTLE FALLS, Minn. (WCCO) – Observing the action after he’d beaten all other competitors on the course, Olympian Wynn Roberts said the biathlon is like threading a needle after you drank a couple cups of coffee.
His analogy makes the sport sound far too simple. The biathlon is anything but.
The sport combines cross country skiing with rifle shooting.
“It’s a sport where you want your heart rate to be a low as possible. You want to be calm and in control. And then you add an aspect like skiing to it, which does the opposite,” said Roberts, a 2010 U.S. Olympic team member.
With cross country skis at his side and a .22-caliber rifle on his back, the Minnesota native was recently back where it all began for him as a young 14-year-old. He competed on the biathlon course at Camp Ripley.
Roberts was among National Guard biathletes from 30 states who competed at the National Guard Biathlon Championships.
With the constant sound of cow bells urging on the competitors, the biathlon begins with a wave of skiers racing through the woods. Their first challenge is to have the fastest time on a 7.5 kilometer course – that’s the equivalent of roughly four-and-a-half miles.
Once that leg of the race is complete it’s time to test their accuracy and composure on the rifle range. With a racing pulse, it now becomes a mental challenge. Competitors need to relax, lie prone and squeeze off no more than eight rounds to hit five targets at a distance of 50 meters.
“This is quintessential to what we do in the military as it mimics what we do during combat. It stresses your body out, it asks you to have precision marksmanship skills,” said Maj. Christopher Ruggerio.
And as if the sport isn’t tough enough, for every target missed on the range, the competitors are assessed a penalty ski lap.
That’s wasted time when you’re racing to ski two more laps around that 7.5 kilometer course.
In between the two additional circuits around the race course, they’ll shoot five more targets – this time from a standing position.
“The biggest thing is not getting too frazzled in the race, just coming in calm,” explains Minnesota team member Jake Dahlberg.
And few do that better than Dahlberg and Roberts, who are members of the All-Guard team, which competes on the international stage.
On the day on we caught up with the competitors, North Dakota, Vermont and Minnesota claimed the top three spots in the team competition.