Norwegian Language Blog

Biathalon Posted by on Dec 20, 2009 in Norway and the world

One of the most obscure sports in the United States, biathlon is one of the most popular winter sports in Europe.  Many of you may never have even heard about it.  I wouldn’t have known about it had I not lived in Norway and seen it in aviser (newspapers) and på tv (on tv).  You just don’t really hear about it at all in the United States.  Biathlon, although it is a term that can be used for any event involving two disciplines, usually refers to a winter sport that combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting.  It seems like an odd combination, doesn’t it?  You may wonder how and where the sport originated, as well as why. 

There are actually rock paintings in Norway (dated back to 3000 BC) that depict hunters with bows and arrows on wooden skis.  Norway’s topography made warfare and hunting during the winter quite challenging.  Hunters and warriors had to be creative and use the resources that mother earth provided for them.  Skis were the fastest mode of transport during the winter.  In addition to rock paintings dating back to the Neolithic Age, there are written descriptions of cross-country skiing and hunting dating back also to BC in Roman, Greek, and Chinese history. 

Norway was the first country to organize biathlon competitions.  In the same year that the United States Declaration of Independence was signed, 1776, Norwegians participated in the first recognizable organized biathlon competition.  The world’s first known ski club, the Trysil Rifle and Ski Club, was formed in Norway in 1861 to promote national defence on a local level.  Military patrol, as skiing and shooting is also referred as, is an alternative form of military training. 

Russia, Sweden, Germany, and Austria were the next countries to show interest in the sport.  Austria hosted the first World Championship in 1958.  In 1960, the sport was incorporated into the Olympic winter games.  There are major biathlon venues in the following countries:  Norway, Austria, Germany, Russia, Sweden, Belarus, France, Poland, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Italy, Croatia, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Slovenia, and the United States.  Norway has 3 major biathlon venues at Holmenkollen, in Lillehammer, and Beitostølen.

You can find detailed information about the rules of the sport, but the general idea is that the biathlete is required to ski a set distance around a track with his or her rifle to a shooting range, where a specified number of shots are required.  The penalty for missing targets is either a time penalty or penalty laps.  There are also rules about when to be in the standing pose to shoot and when to be in the prone stance (kneeling).

The most interesting characteristic of the sport to me is that it combines 2 extremely unlike activities-one that is very aerobic and requires strength, speed, and endurance and another that is not aerobic and requires a great deal of concentration and steadiness.  If I could hit a target, I think it would be really fun.  Another reason to take shooting lessons…

På norsk, the sport is often called skiskytting (ski shooting).

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About the Author: kari

I attended St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN, where I majored in Norwegian and History. During college, I spent almost a year living in Oslo, Norway, where I attended the University of Oslo and completed an internship at the United States Embassy. I have worked for Concordia Language Villages as a pre-K Norwegian teacher and have taught an adult Norwegian language class. Right now, I keep up by writing this Norwegian blog for Transparent Language. Please read and share your thoughts! I will be continuing this blog from my future residence in the Norwegian arctic!


  1. Jeremy:

    Hei Kari,

    Mange takk for artikkelen på skiskyting. Jeg er en amerikaner som bodde på Lillehammer og trente sammen med NTG skiskytterlaget. Jeg lærte norsk der og nå følge bloggen din for å oppholde min norske språkkunnskaper. Jeg kan ikke fortelle deg hvor bra det er å se noen andre prøve å forklare sporten til amerikanerne så, igjen, mange takk.

  2. R. McElveen:

    I’m sending this link to The Tallahassee Democrat (newspaper) who published a letter today from an anti-gun reader questioning what “gunslinging has to do with skiing”.

    Thanks for the history of the sport.

  3. kari:

    I don’t see the link. I would be very interested to read it!