Tank Biathlon: The Bizarre New Sport Invented by the Russian Military

The World
How It Works
Aug. 4 2014 6:01 PM

Are You Ready for Some Tank Biathlon?

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Tanks from Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Armenia compete at an event in 2013.

Photo by Vasily Maximov/AFP/Getty Images

While the provocative war games being held on the Ukrainian border are understandably getting more attention, there’s another notable display of Russian military prowess going on right now: the 2014 Tank Biathlon World Championships.

Joshua Keating Joshua Keating

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

Some of my now-colleagues disagree, but I’ve always found the Winter Olympic sport of biathlon more exciting in theory than in practice. It's an even slower version of cross-country skiing, and target shooting's not actually that visually compelling. Tank biathlon is another beast entirely.

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Invented by the Russian military a few years back, tank biathlon basically works like normal biathlon … but with tanks:

According to the rules of tank biathlon, crews must navigate a distance of up to 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) evading various obstacles, crossing rivers and bridges and shoot at a set of targets. Tanks that miss a target get a penalty lap.

Teams from 12 countries are currently competing at the championships in Alabino, a town southwest of Moscow. The event runs from Aug. 4 to 16 and involves a number of rounds, heats, and distances. 

After joint security talks last year, Russian defense officials announced that teams from the United States, Germany, and Italy would participate in this year’s event. Evidently, that didn’t come to pass, which is not exactly surprising given recent geopolitical events.  

An international event was held last summer, but this year's contest is the first to feature countries from outside the former Soviet Union. Angola, China, India, Kuwait, Mongolia, and Venezuela are all represented. The teams have all been provided with Russian T-72B tanks, except for the Chinese, who apparently came with their own vehicles.

If you’ve already got tank biathlon fever just from reading the description, RT’s got you covered with over three hours of heart-pounding footage below:

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