Saturday, February 18, 2006

OLE, OLE, O . . . NO: Four years ago, Mr. Cosmopolitan and I spent a long Presidents' Day weekend in Rome, where we had the great pleasure of watching several days worth of BBC coverage of the Salt Lake Olympics. As part of our general dumbfoundedness at the extent to which the BBC's Olympic coverage kicks the snot out of NBC's, we spent an hour on the edge of our seats watching Norway's star biathlete Ole Einar Bjoerndalen win the gold in the 12.5 km men's pursuit as part of his four-gold-medal experience in Salt Lake City. What a great sport, we said to each other over magnificent pastries and coffee, I wonder if it's really this good or if the BBC guys just make everything seem fascinating.

Four years later, I am here to tell you that whether it's the BBC or NBC calling the race, the Biathlon Pursuit is everything that Snowboard Cross is not. You want your head-to-head action? Check. You want people who screw up to be meaningfully penalized but still have a chance to potentially recover? Check. You want nail-biting suspense? Check. You want both physical and mental challenge? Check. You don't want judges sticking their biased heads into things? Check. You want competitors not to do goofy things like showboat ten seconds before they were going to win the gold thereby causing a faceplant and a whole lot of embarrassment? Check. Simply put, biathlon pursuit rocks.

So here's the deal. Start times are determined by placement in the individual sprint competition. Competitors ski a 2.5 km loop with a serious uphill climb at the end and then, using the rifles they've been carrying around on their backs, have to shoot five silver-dollar-sized targets from a distance of 50 meters. They repeat this ski-shoot thing 4x, then ski a final lap to the finish. The beauty of the whole concept is that if a skier misses any target, he has to ski a penalty lap around a smaller (150 m) track before returning to the main ski course. (Miss two, ski two, and so forth.) So they've just skied up a mountain, their hearts are racing, and yet they have to get themselves into a sufficient zen zone to shoot these five coins cleanly and quickly. After each and every lap, the shooting shakes up the standings in some significant fashion so that it's all but impossible to know what's going to happen by the end of the race.

It's high drama, it's got physical and mental prowess, and it's great fun to watch. Even without Brits with a dry sense of humor calling the race.

EDITED TO ADD: My post apparently ate the post that talked about how Blogger was having some issues resulting in new posts eating prior posts and the comments associated therewith. Sorry about that, and apparently none of us (including, this time, me) will be posting until the issue is resolved.

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