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How military skiing became biathlon

Every week with RetroNews, the BNF press site, looking back at a history of sport as told by the press at the time. This Saturday: from military skiing to biathlon, as the world discipline championships end this weekend.

March 10, 1904, Life in the great outdoors is pleased that the hunters are finally skiing. Particularly those of 159e, which under the impetus of Captain Bernard made journeys of 50 to 60 kilometers with crossing passes between 2,000 and 2,400 meters.

Three years later, on February 23, 1907, the same newspaper reported on the tournament organized by the French Alpine Club which “Inducts definitively into the French army the use of the ski”. The newspaper anticipates that the Minister of War will soon make it compulsory in the Alpine corps. Photos show French and Italian soldiers with skis on their feet and rifles slung.

In 1924, the military patrol was included in the program of the first Winter Olympics, in Chamonix as an official sport – the discipline was demoted to the rank of a demonstration sport in 1928, 1936 and 1948. The Swiss team established itself as tell it Excelsior January 31, 1924, supporting photos. “The competitors represented the Czechoslovak mountain artillery, the Finnish infantry, the company of the Swiss guides, the Polish infantry, the Italian and French alpine battalions.” The test took place on a 35 km course, it also included a shooting competition, “Each soldier firing six bullets, and each bullet fired into the target improving team time by thirty seconds.”

Excelsior February 25, 1935 returns to the origins of military skiing: “When the rigors of winter are not excessive, the battalions of hunters stationed in the mountainous regions have been maneuvering on skis for a few years. These military exercises in the snow were already carried out in 1897 if we refer to the testimony of the Durance newspaper published in Embrun. In February of this particularly cold year, Lieutenant Widmann, of Swedish origin, joined the foreign legion and was naturalized. He brought a pair of skis from his country and used his leisure time to practice this new sport. […] It was not until the last few years that we witnessed more studied maneuvers where the strategy of military art plays as important a role as climbing itself. ”

“The tests undertaken for a military ski school in the Middle Atlas having been satisfactory, the military authority has just decided the permanent operation of this school for non-commissioned officers and soldiers specialized in this direction”, informed Excelsior October 13, 1936.

After the Second World War, the military ski khaki washes out. At the 1948 Winter Games, in Saint-Moritz (Switzerland), the traditional military patrol and a new sport, the winter pentathlon, combined with its summer namesake, combined horse riding, fencing, stood as demonstration sports. shooting, cross-country skiing and alpine skiing. The discipline is not really attractive, especially since it is quickly competed by a sport combining only cross-country skiing and shooting, particularly appreciated in the Scandinavian countries, in Germany and in Austria. Easier to organize than the winter pentathlon, it buries the latter under the avalanche of its simplicity. “Modern biathlon” was officially born in 1955. In 1957, it joined the International Modern Pentathlon Union, which led to its immediate recognition by the International Olympic Committee. In this form, he experienced his first world championships in 1958 in Austria and became Olympic two years later in Squaw Valley (United States) without going back through the demonstration sport box.

In 1966, sixteen countries participated in the World Championships in Germany. Paris-Presse list them.

Continuation of the story. The discipline will gradually modernize. The adoption of a smaller caliber of bullets in 1978 will allow it to stand out from the military world. It’s also the first edition of the Men’s World Cup. It was not until 1987 to see the creation of its female equivalent.

New events will emerge. Sprinting appeared in the early 1970s, alongside the individual, the historic discipline. Two new races were introduced in the 1990s, the pursuit and then the group start, commonly known as mass start.

Still under the thumb of the International Modern Pentathlon Union, biathlon will gradually gain its independence. The International Biathlon Union was created in 1993. The official separation between the two institutions will take place in 1998. The same year, the Norwegian legend Ole Einar Bjørndalen wins the first of his six big crystal globes, which rewards the winner of the World Cup. His intense rivalry with the Frenchman Raphaël Poirée will help to publicize this sport, hitherto reserved for a minority of enthusiasts. The women’s circuit is crushed by Sweden’s Magdalena Forsberg, who will also win the general classification of the World Cup six times. Small peculiarity, it will remove its six large globes as a result, between 1997 and 2002, a feat that even “King Ole” did not succeed.

And then another sacred biathlon monster appears. In 2012, Frenchman Martin Fourcade won his first World Cup. It will triumph in the following six editions. At the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, he brought his number of Olympic titles to five by winning in the pursuit, the mass start and the mixed relay. He thus becomes the most successful French sportsman of the Olympic Games, summer and winter combined. Wednesday, he won his eleventh world title, becoming world champion in the individual.

Gilles Dhers


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