Wynn Roberts was introduced to biathlon just as one might expect in small town Battle Lake, Minnesota. At a cross country ski meet, his dad ran into another competitor’s mom whose child also participated in biathlon and mentioned that Wynn might be interested. And for the five years since then, it’s been biathlon for Roberts.
The biathlon, depending on the race, consists of an athlete skiing six to twenty km and shooting two or four times from a distance of 50 km. Two shooting positions are used, standing and prone (lying on the ground, stomach down) with corresponding target sizes for each position. The competitor makes shots between each lap, with a final lap at the end.
When Roberts was 17 he was on his first Junior World Team on which he held a spot for four years. This year was his first entry in the Senior World Team, but it proved to be a successful one. Now, Wynn is an alternate for the U.S.A. Biathlon team in the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games and, although this doesn’t guarantee him a chance to compete, he has to train in every event in case any of his teammates is unable to perform.
Minnesotans in the Olympics
For full schedules, see the Olympic schedule online.
Other Olympic Athletes from Minnesota include:
David Backes Minneapolis, MN Hockey
Tony Benshoof White Bear Lake, MN Luge
John Benton St. Michael, MN Curling
Rebekah Bradford Apple Valley, MN Speed Skating
Caitlin Compton Minneapolis, MN Cross-Country Ski
Natalie Darwitz Eagan, MN Hockey
Jeff Isaacson Gilbert, MN Curling
Erik Johnson Bloomington, MN Hockey
Jamie Langenbrunner Cloquet, MN Hockey
Gigi Marvin Warroad, MN Hockey
Natalie Nicholson Bemidji, MN Curling
Zach Parise Minneapolis, MN Hockey
Jenny Potter Edina, MN Hockey
Allison Pottinger Eden Prairie, MN Curling
Kaylin Richardson Edina, MN Downhill Ski/ Slalom
John Shuster Chisholm, MN Curling
For full list of 2010 USA Athletes see the Team USA site.
In 1767, the first biathlon competition was held between military patrol units on the Swedish-Norwegian border. Before that, Norwegian cave paintings have been found depicting figures shooting from skis dating to almost 2000 years ago. biathlon has been in an Olympic sport since 1960 but was a demonstration sport at the first Olympic Winter games in 1924, then called Military Patrol.
The types of competitions in the Winter Olympics include Sprint, Pursuit, Individual, Mass Start, and Relay. Other types of competition not included in the Olympics are Mixed Relay, with men and women competing together, and the Super Sprint.
Despite biathlon’s relative obscurity in the United States, it is the most popular and most televised winter sport in Europe. Wynn recalls competing in Europe while 20,000 people were watching, and attributes the popularity of biathlon to the variability of the sport. In a sport that combines precision shooting with the stamina of long distance cross-country skiing, any small mistake can cost you the race.
Wynn’s favorite part of the sport is precisely that unpredictability that draws crowds in Europe. “It’s [Biathlon] up in the air,” he said. “You could be on top one day and not be in the top 100 the next. The amount of mental preparation is huge. If you let the noise of the crowd, or the person shooting next to you, distract you, things can fall apart really fast.”
Roberts holds a rigorous biathlon schedule. Throughout the year, Roberts stays in shape through cycles of three weeks of training and one and a half weeks off, except April, which he has mostly off before he begins training again in May.
When Roberts is not competing or training, he’s often skiing some more with family or hanging out with his “great” girlfriend. His family also owns four horses and he spends time riding horses and fishing with his family.
For a first time biathlon watcher, Roberts suggests looking out for the individual race. The Individual is the longest of the competitions, with competitors skiing 20 km in five four-km bouts, shooting in between each bout, and a final four-km ski at the end. In addition, every missed shot results in a one-minute time penalty versus a 150m-penalty lap for missed shots in other competitions, which takes only about 21 to 26 seconds to ski. The Individual races are held on February 18 with Women’s beginning at 11 a.m. and Men’s at 1 p.m.
As Roberts looks towards Vancouver, he is most excited to participate in the opening ceremonies and to experience the Olympic atmosphere. As excited as Roberts has been in the past few weeks he admits, “I can only imagine it’s going to get more exciting”.
The first biathlon race at Vancouver will be the women’s sprint at 1 p.m. on February 13, followed by the men’s sprint at 11:15 a.m. on February 14. All races will be medal events culminated in the men’s relay on February 26 at 11:30 a.m.