On a recent sunny Saturday afternoon, about 25 members of the Red Deer Nordic Ski Club and members of the Jackrabbitt skiing program in Red Deer gathered at River Bend Golf and Recreation Area for an introduction to the sport of Biathlon.
The coaches, Jaqueline Akerman and Maurice Samm of Camrose led the skiers through a basic safety lesson on how to handle the air rifles and .22 calibre riffles used in the sport, and then proceeded to explain the finer points of sport to the athletes.
Biathlon has its origins as an exercise for Norwegian soldiers and was originally called military patrol. The world’s first known ski club, the Trysil Rifle and Ski Club, was formed in Norway in 1861 to promote national defence at the local level. The combination of skiing and shooting was first contested at the Olympic Winter Games in 1924.
During the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver and recent Alberta Winter Games held this past February in Cold Lake, members of the local ski clubs developed an interest in trying the sport. Over the period of a few hours club members got the chance to fire the riffles in the biathlon range located at River bend and participate in a relay race.
Biathlon has become one of the most popular sporting events in European countries with top level athletes garnering superstar status, while in North America the sport is a more obscure pastime. For these athletes in Red Deer it’s not about the glory, but coming together for a fun day of skiing and learning a new sport.