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Olympics 2014: Why Biathlon Is The Best Sport You're Not Watching

The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi has its marquee events. For Canadians, many will make sure that they're in front of a television for hockey and figure skating. Some will watch as Canadians go for gold on the slopes or on the speed skating oval. But we think they're missing out on one of the best winter sports out there. One that combines speed, intense competition and grace under pressure. Oh, did we mention the very attractive competitors?

What Is It Exactly?
It's a combination of cross-country skiing and shooting. At these Olympics there will be 11 events, five for men, five for women and a mixed-relay. Each racer skies then shoot at sets of targets either standing or prone.
Skiing... Shooting... Got It
That doesn't sound so hard. What's the big deal?

A biathlete will ski at full speed and his or her heart rate could rise to around 200 bpm. Anyone who's run for a bus in the middle of winter and then tried to pull out change from their wallet or purse knows what a beating heart does to fine motor control.

“Your heart rate's going nearly maximum. And you come into the range. You have to get your breathing under control. That's maybe the hardest thing to master in our sport,” American biathlete Tim Burke told NBC Olympics. Biathletes have to do this up to four times with the clock running. And if they miss, well that can suck too.
When You Miss...
You skate a penalty lap, usually a 150m penalty loop. Needless to say, that can end your chances for a medal.
Who's Good At This?
The sport originated in Norway in the late 19th century as a military training exercise (surprise!) and they've been dominant at it ever since.

At the 2013 World Championships countries as varied as France, Belarus and even the United States nabbed medals.

PHOTO: Golden smiles from Team Norway who took home eight out of 11 gold medals at the 2013 World Championships.
On the men's side you'll want to watch the duel between Martin Fourcade of France (left) and Emil Hegle Svendsen (right) of Norway. Svendsen and the Norwegians won more gold medals at the 2013 World Championships but the French were often right on their tails.

American Tim Burke, who took silver in the 20 km race is also worth watching. A medal from him would be the first U.S. medal in the sport and could increase interest there
Wait A Sec... These Biathletes Are Kinda Hot
Yep. Years of cross-country skiing will do that. Did we also mention they're also very good at controlling their heart rates?

This is the USA's Tim Burke. That's a Tom Bradyesque smile.
And here's France's Martin Fourcade. Not just a pretty face, he has the potential to take home multiple medals at Sochi and lead the French to victory over the dominant Norwegians. (Photo Stanko Gruden/Agence Zoom/Getty Images)
Hello, Boys!
Nuff said. (Photo AP files)
And The Women...?
Well, we have a soft spot for Germany's Andrea Henkel. She took silver in the 15 km at the World Championships.

RUN AWAY ELK! That woman is very good with firearms!

(Photo Jens Meyer/AP)
Be Still My Heart
The Czech Republic's Gabriela Soukalová... Again. Very, very good with guns.
And apparently she's not a half-bad singer?

(Photo Alberto Pizzoli via Getty Images)
Best Biathlon Story At Sochi So Far?
Lanny and Tracy Barnes are American biathletes. When Lanny fell ill during qualifications gave up her spot so her sister could go to Russia.

"Tracy selflessly gave me her spot, and I couldn't be more grateful for the opportunity. It's not every day that you are given a second chance like this. I thought my chance at the Olympics was over, but now I've got a second chance and will do everything I can to bring honor to her and our country in Russia," she said, according to the Team USA site.

(Photo Eric Feferberg/Getty Images)
What About Canada?
Canada is sending a full biathlon team of four men and four women but a podium finish will be tough to achieve.

The last Canadian to win an Olympic medal in biathlon? The great Myriam Bedard at the 1994 Games, who won two gold medals.

(Photo Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images)
When Is It On?
Biathlon events kick off on February 8 with the men's 10 km sprint and will run through most of the Games. The women's relay will take place Feb. 21st and the men's on Feb. 22.


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