Multi-sport Olympic events have always been considered the most difficult. In fact, the reigning decathlon champion is typically considered “the world’s best athlete.”
Sports consisting of both extreme athletic effort and a technical skill require very different approaches to training. Among these, biathlon is considered to be the most challenging.
Biathlon first became an Olympic sport in 1960, but its origins date back to 2000BC. It is a combination of cross country skiing and marksmanship. The object is to complete a skiing course (20km or 12.4 miles for men and 15km or 9.3 miles) in the shortest amount of time while stopping to shoot at targets in the prone and standing positions. Missed targets add minutes to the final time.
Cross country skiing is an intense aerobic activity requiring both upper and lower body strength as well as cardiovascular stamina. Training sessions often last 21⁄2 hours and it is not uncommon to average 13 such sessions per week.
During the season, workouts typically consist of a combination of skiing and shooting. Off-season activities include roller skiing, rowing and elliptical work outs.
Physiologically, the challenge in biathlon is going from a state of high adrenergic stimulation with rapid breathing, elevated heart rate and sweating to a condition of calm and precise movements. All humans have a slight, often imperceptible tremor. When agitated, this tremor becomes coarser. Biathletes must condition themselves to make this transition quickly.
The key to making this dramatic transition is the ability to control breathing. In doing so, the heart rate slows and a rhythm is established to perform a necessary skill.
Cadenced breathing is an effective tool for athletes to create calm in the midst of agitation. It is also a skill that will serve non-athletes when dealing with stress.