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While my favorite Olympic sport is tied up in the drama of short track, the biathlon has a special place in my heart. That bizarre ski and shoot at stuff sport, it’s just awesomely intriguing, and despite the American love of guns and shooting at things it retains a distinctly European flavor. In fact at this moment, no American biathlete has ever medaled at the Olympics. It recalls the days of Olympiad competition in quaint European hamlets. Apparently in 1924, the first year of the modern Olympics at Chamonix, the Scandinavians were reluctant to participate… until they were assured that biathlon would be included.
As I type the men’s 15km mass start–the sport’s marquee event at the Olympics–has just taken off. The commentators reflect on the innate high drama of the race both in the start method and the scene at the shooting range. This is particularly true as 30 top biathletes pretty much arrive at the range simultaneously. It’s intense.
According to a broadcast from last week’s biathlon events, the mysterious state of Maine has become a hotbed of American biathlete training. As luck would have it, my dear friend Spike is from Maine. It’s his one defining characteristic (in my mind)… so it looks like we have an expert on our hands?
Or do we?
Spike: Why did you have to talk to me about Maine?
Johanna: Because apparently, it is a hotbed of my favorite Olympian sport, closely beating out short track death match racing [I lied to get the informational goods], and I want to know if you ever strap a rifle to your back and go skiing, or if you know anyone who does.
Spike: No. And no.
Johanna: I am sorely disappointed.
[Things rather devolved after this point, unfortunately, but perhaps not surprisingly.]
Johanna: You know, you are always thwarting the great stories about Maine that I want to put in my blog. Someday I am going to go to Maine and see what it is all about.
Spike: Haha. Let’s see… Maine.
Johanna: Surely you at least ski without a gun? Or do you just lie about in fields drinking well-water all day?
Spike: …Yes. Expect we lay about. We’re exceptionally honest. And serious about our fields, so we don’t lie about them.
Johanna: Wholesome and American?
Spike: Are you kidding? They voted down gay marriage… Although that may be considered being wholesome and American.
[Moment of silence for the state of the world/ the United States.]
Johanna: I am ever so impressed that we have actually just had a conversation that you instigated. Since you’re usually way too important to discuss Maine with me.
Spike: I’m just ashamed of my heritage.
Johanna: I’m sorry.
What have we learned? Well, possibly that Maine is not a hotbed of biathletes… or it probably is. Possibly that the one person I know from Maine is not a helpful individual. Perhaps he has been lying to me for years about being a true Maine-r. I find myself left with a lot of questions. And still with the desire to learn how to ski and shoot, maybe hand out with my favorite biathlete, Magdalena Neuner. Looking forward to seeing more of her in the 12.5km women’s mass start… if NBC decides to air it. Sigh.
For more reading on the art of biathlon, check out Edward McClelland’s article recording his experience trying out “winter’s weirdest sport” in Slate Magazine.
This just in: Gold goes to Evgeny Ustyugov of Russia, silver to Martin Fourcade of France and bronze toPavol Hurajt of Slovakia, a first for his country.