Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The U.S. is Lame at Biathlon - But Why?

Tuesday while running a fast five miles on the treadmill at the gym, I watched the Winter Olympics men's biathlon. You know, the sport where the athletes cross-country ski, but then stop periodically to shoot targets. As a race with shooting, it's pretty entertaining to watch, and it's requires the participants to be extremely good athletes.

Virtually all the competitors were European, and the only three North Americans finished at the very back of the field. The lone U.S. competitor finished 37th - behind a lot of French, Austrian, Norwegians, Finns, Swedes, Poles and others.

As I watched, I asked myself...shouldn't this be a sport that Americans absolutely crush in?

I mean, think about what's needed for this sport and what we in the United States have at our disposal:
  • We have a big population to draw athletes from - far more than the nations that are good at biathlon. Sure, most good athletes here go into the more mainstream sports, but with 300 million people, you'd think we could come up with a half dozen or so who are as good as anybody in the world. Put it this way...France manages to field a top 5 biathlete. They're out there kinkin' our ass. Why can't we be competitive?
  • We have plenty of the nation cold enough and covered in snow every winter for athletes to practice. I get why nations like Israel, Nigeria and Mexico don't field teams. But here in the U.S., we have the Northwest, Midwest, Northeast, Utah, Colorado, California...all of these places offer ample places to practice and develop first class biatheletes.
  • We are a gun culture. Guns, guns, guns. Huntin', target shootin' and who knows what else. Americans love them some guns. We have the highest rate of guns per capita in the world. Our nation is armed to the teeth. Yep, we love guns and think they are cool. You would think that the good old U.S.A. would not want to take second fiddle to anyone when it comes to shooting sports.
  • We have the facilities. Lake Placid, Salt Lake City and Squaw Valley have all hosted the Winter Olympics and have facilities for training.
We have all the advantages, but can't field a top 36 biathlete. It's a mystery to me.

Oh well, at least we're good at downhill skiing and ice skating.

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