My first upclose look at the biathlon sport was at the 1980 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, N.Y. At the time, I was just our of college and editor of a weekly suburban newspaper in Pennsylvania. I won a state press association lottery drawing to attend the games-all expenses were paid by the press association.
Aside from covering the biathlon Olympic event, bobsled and freestyle skating events for the paper, I was lucky enough to draw a pass to the USA versus Soviet Union hockey game. Yes, I was eyewitness to the sporting event of the century. But that's a story for another day.
Vermont may not be known as a hotbed for biathlon training, but those residents who follow the odd winter sport-which consists of a race in which contestants ski around a cross-country track, shoot off rifle rounds, then ski on-have probably heard of the Grafton Ponds Outdoor Center, a recreationlocated in Grafton.
Grafton Ponds is notable because it has the only top-notch biathlon course in the state.
Biathletes, and those who have tried the sport, have had to visit Grafton Ponds during the winter which sounds logical-you can't ski in the summer, right? Well, now the recreation center offers a biathlon training course for both the winter and summer season. During the snowless summer months, biathlon specialists will be using mountain bikes or employing cross-country running on the high-tech, competitive course.
According to a recent news statement released by officials at Grafton Ponds, the year-round course offers 10 laser guns and a competition series this winter will help pump up Vermont biathletes to expand their skill sets and gear up for even greater competition, in some cases, on the international sporting scene.
There are a few conflicting reports, but it appears the sport has its roots in the 1860s. The world's first known ski club, called the Trysil Rifle and Ski Club of Norway in 1861 sported a few members who liked to ski and shoot. By the early 1900s, Norwegian solders were skiing and shooting as part of military training. But the actual sport, as we know biathlon today, didn't hit the popular imagination until the Olympic Winter Games of 1928. By the 1940s the sport disappeared from the world games, but the Soviet Russians demanded it be returned to the games in the mid-1950s
According to Sports Illustrated magazine, the first international biathlon championship took place in the Austrian Alps in 1958. While it languished at the Olympics, it returned for good to the Olympic venue in 1960. And women didn't particpate in the sport until the 1992 Olympic Games.
Grafton Pond's nifty biathlon course will be offered daily for all ages and abilities, 1-3 p.m.
The nice thing about biathlon, aside from the initial investment in apparel and gear, is that, at least in Vermont, training is affordable.
Cost to train on the Grafton Ponds course is only $10. And for more demanding biathetes and groups, private course runs can be arranged. Grafton Ponds Outdoor Center typically opens in mid-December for the winter season.
Check It Out: To learn more about biathlon, contact the Grafton Ponds Outdoor Center at 783 Townshend Rd. in Grafton. You can call ahead at 802-843-2400, e-mail, email@example.com or visit the website at http://graftonponds.com.