The biathlon was needed for survival long before it received its present name. It is closely connected with the life of our ancestors, especially in cold, snowy regions of the earth. Even then, thousands of years ago, skis provided the best way for hunters to move quickly and safely across the snow-covered land. On their homemade wooden boards, they used bows and arrows to hunt game for their clan - a sporting endeavor.
Fast running on icy terrain, plus suitable armament - the interest of the military was not long in coming. If the hit rate on the move was low, at least the snow runners themselves made equally poor targets. Thus, as early as the Middle Ages, the armies of the north, in Scandinavia and Russia, assembled ski regiments that practiced using weapons while running. Once again, it was a matter of survival, albeit in a more direct form.
Biathlon - the recent history
So, for historical reasons alone, it was initially reserved for the military to compete in the discipline of today's biathlon, not only in martial but also in sporting form. It is a tradition that continues to this day. Thus, at the end of the 19th century, soldiers and officers began to embrace biathlon as a sport. The first clubs for military skiing were founded - in Norway even in the 1860s. The first military championships were also held in the German Empire in the 19th century.
The emerging sport was favored by the beginning mass production of skis, which thus became more and more agile and faster. Military patrol skiing, which emerged from 1915 onwards, was initially a pure team sport, with a hierarchical line-up: officer, non-commissioned officer, two soldiers - that's how it went down the track. Once half of the distance had been covered - usually 30 kilometers - they had to shoot. Whoever hit the target was credited with decisive seconds. We had arrived at the biathlon sport as we know it today, apart from minor modifications.
Biathlon - a military sport discipline becomes Olympic
The combination of cross-country skiing and shooting, the biathlon, was a high-flyer. Active athletes and spectators wanted this sport, more and more practiced it, more and more watched. At the 1st Olympic Winter Games in Chamonix, France, originally held as the "International Winter Sports Week", the military patrol race was already part of the program. Each athlete shot 18 rounds at so-called field targets at a distance of 250 meters. Those who hit the target were credited with 30 seconds.
The first Olympic victory in the "biathlon" was won by the Swiss in 1924, with a lead of almost a quarter of an hour over Finland and more than 20 minutes over the third-placed hosts from France.
Biathlon in modern times
If biathlon had taken the path from hunting to warfare to celebrated military sport, after World War II it was finally the turn of winter sports-loving civilians - for the men, at least. It was the umbrella organization of the Modern Pentathlon UIPM (founded in 1948) that took on the combined sport of running and shooting and gave it a name: Biathlon. For 40 years, the sport of biathlon remained under the care of the UIPM before being spun off to the International Biathlon Union, IBU, in 1998. So even today, it is not the Fédération Internationale de Ski (FIS) that organizes the major biathlon competitions, but usually the IBU - a unique feature in the world of winter sports.
And the women? They are also in the biathlon today, thrilling millions of spectators with their performances. But they haven't had much time to do so: Biathlon as a women's sport has only been an Olympic sport since 1992, by which time several generations of Olympic champions had already been crowned in the men's event.