Biathlon, a discipline that combines skiing and shooting targets, can be a dangerous sport. An athlete recently paid the price.
Biathlon is not necessarily the sport best known to the general public, even if in France, the names of Martin Fourcade, Quentin Fillon Maillet and for the less young Raphael Poirée, Sandrine Bailly or even Vincent Defrasne do not leave one indifferent. Combining cross-country skiing and rifle shooting, biathlon is a complete sport requiring precision, physical strength, endurance and great mental strength.
It is the shots, standing or lying down, which will determine a good biathlete from a very good biathlete. They are carried out using rifles that use non-optical sights and a bolt action (no automatic or semi-automatic re-cocking). They also have a light stock since they must weigh at least 3.5 kg.
In detail, during all competitions and in particular during the Worlds which take place at the beginning of February 2024, the format of the shooting sessions remains identical. You must hit five targets located at a distance of 50 m. For this, the biathlete has a magazine of five bullets which he must engage before making his shots. For standing shooting, the target is a 11.5 cm disc, for lying shooting, the target is a 4.5 cm disc even if aiming is always carried out on a 11.5 cm disc (it is worth aim for the central part).
What about the bullets used? Biathletes use lead or lead alloy cartridges of 22 caliber to international standards, as explained on the Olympic website. You will have understood that although it is a sporting activity, if the use of the rifle is not supervised, it can very quickly become dangerous in the event of an error.
This is what happened to one of the stars of the circuit, the Norwegian Sturla Holm Laegreid, crowned world sprint champion on February 10. In December 2023, the biathlete decided, like almost the entire field, to train from his place of residence (a hotel in Lenzerheide in Switzerland, location of a World Cup event). But to be able to do this, you have to fire bullets dry, that is to say, aim at a point on the wall with your rifle. Unfortunately for the Norwegian, he did not check his weapon during an exercise when there was still a bullet inside. More fear than harm for the Norwegian delegation and Sturla Holm Laegreid, the ball “simply” hit the hotel wall. The biathlete was, however, suspended for the next race and had to apologize.
“I am truly sorry for this incident and I sincerely apologize to the entire biathlon family, my teammates and the hotel owner for what happenedcommented Sturla Laegreid, quoted by the IBU. “It’s a stark reminder to me for all biathletes of how important safety routines are.”
Since this affair, an investigation has been opened and new sanctions have been imposed with a fine of 28,500 crowns for Norway (2,500 euros) and a weapon handling course for all athletes : “This sanction is what we expected. I am convinced that there is nothing stricterhas explained Sturla Holm Lægreid at the microphone of the NRK. I think it’s good that everyone has to participate.” Marked by the event, the Norwegian also decided to change his training method, now emptying all his magazines each time.