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  • Writer's picturePeter Interland

On Target: Beijing Olympics Biathlon FAQs

We asked Detective Travis Shea, one of Dying to Get In’s favorite characters and former scholastic biathlon competitor, to give us his take on this year’s Olympic games. A native Mainer from Aroostook County and a proficient cross-country skier and shooter, Travis considered trying out for the Olympic biathlon squad while he was attending high school at Maine School of Science and Mathematics (MSSM) in Limestone, Maine. Nearby Fort Kent was the site of one of the two North American venues in the 2010-11 Biathlon World Cup. Based on his background in this unique sport and his experience in criminal justice, Travis chose to focus this interview on the firearms, shooting skills, and equipment required to compete.

On that note, we turn this article over to Travis.

Q. What kind of rifles do they use in Olympic biathlon events?

A. Both men and women use high-tech .22-caliber rifles with four 5-round magazines. The rifle weighs about 7.59 pounds and the barrel length is 20 to 22 inches, and the overall length is runs around 39 inches. Most competitors use Anschutz 1827 F Bionic rifles. While the rifle uses fixed and snow sights, neither sight is magnified.

Q. How big is the target and how far away is it?

A. Five targets for both standing and prone shooting positions on the range are placed 50 meters away. But the size of each target for prone shooting is only 1.8-inches (4.5-cm)—about the size of a silver dollar. When the skier stops to shoot standing up, the target size is 4.5-inches (11.5-cm)—about the size of a softball.

Q. Why do some of the biathlon athletes take penalty loops?

A. After arriving at the range, each shooter must successfully hit each one of the five targets. If the shooter misses any one of the targets—with all rounds loaded from the gun’s magazine—they must take another round and manually place it in the breach and try again. They get up to three manually loaded rounds to clear any remaining targets missed. After eight shots, the competitor must do a 150-meter penalty lap for each missed target. Penalty laps take about 20-seconds to complete and can make or break the competitor’s chance of winning the race.

Q. Anything special about the .22 caliber ammo used?

A. Like every other element of a biathlon and the equipment used in competition, the ammunition must conform to specifications set by the International Biathlon Union (IBU). The bullets have to be lead or a lead alloy, weigh between 2.55 and 2.75 grams (39.35 to 42.43 grains) and have a maximum muzzle velocity of 1181 fps.

Q. When was the biathlon event added to the Winter Olympics?

A. The first time the event appeared was in the first Winter Olympics held in Chamonix, France in 1924. It was a demonstration event and called “military patrol” back then. The Olympics had a different name back then, too—“Winter Sports Week.” The biathlon was included as a demo event in 1928, 1936, and after WWII in 1948. It became an official part of the games in the 1960 Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley, California and every Olympics since then.

Q. Anything you’d like to say about Team USA’s biathlon chances?

A. Those Nordic countries are tough to beat in this sport, but our athletes are continuing to improve. So, I’m saying we have a chance to medal. I’ll continue to watch along with everyone else to see how we do in Beijing. I want to give a big Maine shout out to Clare Egan from Cape Elizabeth, Maine! Clare finished 7th in the biathlon mixed relay! You go girl! Congrats!

Q. Finally, any truth to the rumor that you and Betsy Palmer are dating?

A. Oh, sorry—but I just got called in. Got to go solve a crime. Thanks. Go USA! Bye…

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