Ireland needs to appreciate obscurity, take for instance Biathlon..

ImageI stumbled upon this sport many years ago as primary school student.  It used to be broadcast on Eurosport right before Eurogoals on a Monday afternoon and ever since watching my 1st race, I became hooked.  Whenever I speak about it with Irish people, they seem to always think that it is a triathlon minus 1 part, however it is much more than that.  The “Bi” would suggest two components: Cross-country skiing & Rifle Shooting.  Competitors compete over 5-7 days in different meets around the world in a variety of racing formats from the sprint to the relay.  Generally, competitors ski around a course stopping at 4 intervals to shoot 5 targets (2 in prone position, 2 in standing position).  If you miss a target, you must complete a penalty loop which normally adds around 20-25 seconds to your time.  Typically, countries like Norway, Germany, France, Russia have dominated the sport over the past decade.  I consider it one of the most gruelling, punishing sports as it calls on incredible physical fitness as well as a mental toughness and composure.

I grew up with the duel between Raphael Poireé (France) and Ole Einar Bjoerndalen (Norway).  Two athletes that excelled, despite their completely contrasting styles.  In my opinion, every sport needs their Andy Carrolls just as much as their Lionel Messis.  I like to refer to Bjoerndalen as a “flyer”.  He relied on his amazing physical stamina to ski at a quicker pace than any of the other competitors and was willing to take a risk when it came to the shooting.  Poireé had a smoother skiing approach and, as with a lot of the French biathletes, phenomenal accuracy with the rifle.  It was incredible to watch their to-and-fro battle over the years and once the Frenchman retired, the excitement struggled to reach the same heights.  However, in recent years the emergence of the new Frenchman, Martin Fourcade, has reignited my interest and it is pretty much Fourcade versus the Norweigans and Austrians this season.

It may seem strange that someone living in a country that can’t cope with a week of snow has such an interest in an obscure sport.  I have never even been on a skiing holiday.  Maybe I am just a bit weird.  I think that is the joy of sport though, right?  Even if you don’t really know what is going on, you can still become involved through the competitive nature of the athletes on view.  Many people, mostly loving women, accompany their other halves to matches without the slightest clue as to what is going on.  They feed off the hunger and desire to win shown by the players.  I like to compare the Mass Start event in Biathlon to the 1st corner of a formula one race.  All competitors jostle for position to get the most efficient skiing line and to position themselves in the ideal position for the shoot.  All knowing that one fall/slip/crash will pretty much end their chances of winning.  The first 30 seconds can pretty much put all you’ve trained for down the toilet.  And that’s what we love as spectators, that unpredictability.

My advice to you is this:  Look at something that you have never looked at before.  It may just surprise you and tickle your fancy, just as Biathlon did to me.


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