A would-be biathlete tries winter's weirdest sport.

Scenes from the Olympics.
Feb. 16 2010 11:58 AM

He Shoots, He Skis

A would-be biathlete tries winter's weirdest sport.

(Continued from Page 1)

At the starting line, I hung around a few guys who looked as ill-prepared as I was: folks on old-fashioned wooden skis, wearing cargo pants, sweatpants, and blue jeans. They were all marksmen who spent so much money on ammunition they didn't have any left over for ski equipment.

"How'd you do on the practice round?" I asked a fellow in jeans and a red cap with earflaps.

Advertisement

"I got four out of five," he said. "I do a lot of shooting. I'm trying to get more into skiing."

It was a staggered start, one skier every 30 seconds. As I struggled up the first hill, I was passed by a pair of schoolboys on skate skis. They seemed quite relaxed. One was talking about the last Harry Potter book he'd read.

By the time I reached the shooting station, I was sweaty and worn out. I flopped down on the mat, my skis splayed out behind me, and was handed a rifle. I tried to locate the first target through the scope. Bang. Missed. Bang. Missed again. Bang. Missed a third time. I wasn't breathing hard—I'd had plenty of time to slow down as I cruised into the station—but I was having trouble holding my weapon steady.

"Keep it centered," advised the club member supervising the shooting, as he tracked my wavering muzzle. "Get the target right in the center of the scope. Exhale about three-quarters of a breath."

Bang. I hit the fourth target, which reassured me that I wasn't playing a rigged carnival game. But I missed the fifth.

"Four laps!" the instructor ordered, shouting like an aggrieved gym coach.

I circled the ring of red cones four times, then headed back into the woods. When I finished, the guys in sweatpants, cargo pants, and jeans were waiting. They'd started behind me, and I hadn't seen them pass me on the trail, so they must have outshot me.

"I got three out of five," said sweatpants.

"I got four out of five," the guy in the red cap told me.

I couldn't shoot. I'd worn the wrong skis. That's an unfortunate combination in a biathlon race. The winning time was 16:16, by a skate skier in spandex who "shot clean," hitting all five targets. My time was 37:55. There was a bright side. I didn't finish last. (I finished next-to-last.) I also didn't shoot myself or anyone else. And during the Olympics, when I cheer on Tim Burke in his attempt to win a gold medal, I won't just be thinking, Thank God I never have to do that again. I'll also be thinking, Is there any athlete who can bring America together like a cross-country skier carrying a rifle? City boy and country boy. Gun lover and environmentalist. The biathlon's got a little something for all of us.

Become a fan of Slate on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 16 2014 11:46 PM The Scariest Campfire Story More horrifying than bears, snakes, or hook-handed killers.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.