As the nation with the second-highest all-time Winter Olympics medal count, right behind first-placed Norway, you could be forgiven for thinking that the United States had by now, medaled in every event at the Winter Games.
Despite a formidable haul of 282 medals, amassed over participation in 23 Games, dating back to the first Winter Olympics in 1924, there remains one sport in which a podium spot has thus far proved elusive for the U.S.
Essentially a combination of skiing and shooting, the sport’s name is derived from Greek and roughly translates as “two contests.” Equal parts precision and physical endurance, biathlon is described as an event that “combines the power and aggression of cross-country skiing with the precision and calm of marksmanship.”
Although its roots can be traced to 18th-century Scandinavia, when Norwegian skiing regiments organized military skiing competitions, the first modern biathlon was the Forvarsrennet, which was organized in Oslo by the Norwegian military in 1912. A version of the biathlon known as “military patrol” was featured at the 1924 games in Charmonix, France. There were also demonstrations of the event at the 1928, 1936 and 1948 Games.
The biathlon in its current form made its Olympic debut at the 1960 Winter Games in Squaw Valley, California. Although it wasn’t added on the women’s side until the 1992 Games in Albertville, France.
With its Norwegian military roots, you’d expect that Norway would lead in the all-time biathlon medal count. But in fact, it’s Germany that heads up the count, with 45 total biathlon medals, including 16 gold, 20 silver and nine bronze.
Norway is second with 35 total medals, breaking down as 15 gold, 12 silver and eight bronze.
The United State’s greatest success in Olympic biathlon came four years ago in Sochi, where American Lowell Bailey had what was then the race of his life, and looked bound for a spot on the podium. Bailey , 36, who will be competing in his fourth Olympics this month, missed one shot out of 20 and wound up finishing eighth. Had he made that shot, he would have won bronze.
While the U.S. isn’t necessarily among the favorites heading into this year’s Games, 2017 was a breakout year for Americans in the sport. Last year at the biathlon World Championships in Austria, Bailey won gold and became the first American world champion in the sport. At the same event, Susan Dunklee captured silver, becoming the first U.S. woman to win an individual medal at a biathlon World Championship.
Following Bailey and Dunklee’s success last year, hopes are high that 2018 may finally be the year in which the U.S. takes home the one Winter Olympics medal that’s thus far proved beyond its reach.
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