If you've had a hard time finding me around San Diego County the past few days, that's because I'm up in Vancouver attending the 2010 Olympic Games. Right now the two events I'm planning to attend were/are Biathlon and the Men's Curling Semi-Final.
Biathlon was yesterday. Being a former middle distance runner and current cyclist I tend to be drawn towards more endurance based sports. I've seen biathlon on TV from the Olympics a number of times, but never had a chance to see it live. If you get a chance to go to an event sometime, I highly recommend you go.
At a high level biathlon is kinda like a cycling time trial, just obviously done on cross country skis. The big difference being that after each lap, the competitors stop at the shooting range and try to hit five targets from 50 meters in five shots while either lying on their stomach, or standing (it alternates each lap). Normally you are forced to ski a small penalty lap for each miss. Yesterday they skipped the penalty laps and just assigned a one minute penalty for each miss. Pretty simply, you didn't see anyone with more than one or two misses in the top ten finishers of the men's or the women's races. For example, the Canadian man would have been right near the top five if he hit all his shots. Instead he missed two out of twenty and finished something closer to fifteenth. This is where I can see a big part of the attraction and challenge is to the sport. Not only do you have to have an incredible engine to TT your way around the course on cross country skis, but you then have to stop at the range, slow yourself down, relax and try to hit your shots.
Maybe this sort of format is something that southern California cyclo cross promoters should consider. You've already got the bike TT going on. You've probably also already got a bunch of gun toting athletes on the course. Just set up a firing range and you're all set.
The other thing that I really enjoyed about the sport, is that just like cycling, all the fans at the event got into supporting all of the athletes when they put in a great performance. As an example, one of the Russian men had to deal with his riffle strap breaking while out on the course. When these folks aren't shooting, they carry their riffle on their back with a strap that goes around each shoulder, kinda like a backpack. Because the Russian's strap broke, he had to carry his gun in his hand while trying to ski. The guy was also one of the few men to go perfect on the range. So as he was fighting his way around the course he had fans of every country urging him on. He eventually got his strap fixed and ended up coming home in something like fifth.
Anyways, great event. I'd definitely go check it out again.
You can find some of my pictures on my Flickr page - http://www.flickr.com/photos/44296481@N08/