How to Biathlon-ize Every Winter Olympic Sport

Five-Ring Circus
A Blog About the Olympic Games
Feb. 20 2014 4:23 PM

How to Biathlon-ize Every Winter Olympic Sport

France's Martin Fourcade competes in the biathlon during the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 19, 2014.

Photo by Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images

If you haven’t yet caught a biathlon race, well, you should, because biathlon is great. What’s not to like about a sport that combines cross-country skiing, target shooting, and a very excitable announcer? As we approach the final days of the Sochi Games, I am left with one big unresolved question: How can we make all of the Winter Olympic sports more like the biathlon?

The easy answer is just to give every athlete in every event a rifle and call it a day. But we’re not looking for easy answers here. The biathlon isn’t great because people on skis shoot stuff. It’s great because it’s the peanut butter and chocolate of the Winter Games, a sport that combines two entirely disparate things and makes both of them better. And yes, there are guns. Keep all of that in mind as you read my proposal for biathlon-izing every Winter Olympic sport—including biathlon.


Alpine skiing: While Alpine skiing is already pretty exciting, it could be much more exciting if each skier tossed a grenade into the snow, and then was forced to outrace the ensuing avalanche.

Biathlon: What’s that? You say it’s redundant to biathlon-ize the biathlon? That’s what people said when the good folks at Kentucky Fried Chicken proposed an extra-crispy version of their already-pretty-crispy chicken—but, brother, they forged ahead anyway, and the results were crisptastic! Now, where was I? Oh, yes, the biathlon. Let’s juice it up by giving each competitor two guns and four skis. Where will they put the extra skis? On their hands, probably. But then how will they shoot the guns? Exactly!

Bobsled: If a biathlete misses a target, she has to ski an additional “penalty loop.” In bobsled, there is no penalty for hitting the wall. That’s just wrong—there’s no reason an Olympic sport should be more permissive than the game Operation. If you hit the wall, you should have to push your sled back up to the start of the track. Now that’s an incentive to improve.

Cross-country skiing: Let’s combine cross-country skiing with orienteering, and make this event a true wilderness survival test. We’ll bring the competitors way out in the middle of the woods with nothing but the skis on their feet, a compass, and a gun with which to ward off bears, A medal will be awarded to the skier who crosses the finish line first, as well as to the bear who eats the most skiers.

Curling: No more sliding the stones across the ice. Now, you have to shoot them from a cannon. Also, you can stick those brooms in the cannon if you like.

Figure skating: Figure skaters are now required to perform a short program and a free skate. From now on, there will be a compulsory third “military drill” program in which each skater must pirouette with a rifle. Death-defying spins, indeed.

Freestyle skiing: Skiers will get bonus points for tricks that involve shooting a clean hole through the center of a nickel, just like they did back in the day during Wild West freestyle skiing competitions.

Ice hockey: You don’t need firearms to biathlon-ize a hockey game. Just replace the tiebreaking shootout with an accuracy competition in which players must shoot a puck through the mouth of a cardboard cutout from 25 yards away. I actually think this is a good idea. Well, a not-terrible idea. Actually, never mind.

Luge: At the end of a run, racers must use their runner blades to saw through a rope, thus releasing balloons containing inspirational messages like “Number 1 Olympian” and “Good effort.” In unrelated news, I am currently looking for people who might want to invest in my new inspirational-balloon business. If you’re interested, give me a buzz!

Nordic combined: This odd sport already combines two separate disciplines: cross-country skiing and ski jumpng. Thank you, whatever genius biathlon-ized this sport before I had the chance!

Short track: Taking a cue from the television programs Wipeout and American Gladiators, skaters will be made to navigate various obstacles—mud flats, tar pits, referees wielding pugil sticks—as they make their way around the track. This doesn’t really have much to do with the biathlon, but it’s in the spirit of the biathlon, maybe.

Skeleton: To honor biathlon’s emphasis on precision and accuracy, the sport’s governing body should reconfigure the skeleton track so that racers have to pass through a series of small, skeleton-racer-sized holes.

Ski jumping: Let’s combine this sport with skeet shooting, and have other competitors shoot at the jumper with a paintball gun. Now, you’ll be graded on distance, style, and kills.

Snowboarding: Yeah, you probably don’t want snowboarders handling rifles, at least not if spaced-out gold medalists Sage Kotsenburg and Jamie Anderson are at all representative of the broader snowboarding community. Just have the biathlon guy announce the snowboarding events from now on, and we’ll be fine.

Speedskating: In honor of the American skaters’ struggle with their suits, the race will begin with each competitor in one skintight outfit and finish with them in another. How do you change your skinsuit in the middle of a race? That’s not my problem.

Justin Peters is a writer for Slate. He is working on a book about Aaron Swartz, copyright, and the rise of “free culture.” Email him at


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