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February 2, 2002 - Biathlon - 2002-02-01

MUSIC: "Olympic Fanfare"

RS: The Winter Olympics begins on Friday in Salt Lake City, and today on WORDMASTER I've got an almost-Olympic story to tell. I'm Rosanne Skirble, and I'll be in Utah for the Games. The only sport I really want to see is the biathlon, a sport that combines target shooting with a 22-caliber rifle and cross-country skiing.

That's because I could have been an Olympic biathlete - or at least my family thinks so - and that's okay with me. But, before I get to that, let me tell you a little bit about the sport.

Basically it is a skiing and shooting competition. But, the targets are tough to hit because it is hard to steady your rifle after racing on skies. And the targets are small and half a football field away. And, to make matters worse, for each missed target you have to ski a penalty loop. That can cost you the race because the athlete with the best time wins.

I'm telling you all this so you can appreciate what happened to me last summer when my family visited the Olympic Biathlon course in Lake Placid, New York. That's where the Winter Olympics were held in 1980. And, that's where this year's U-S biathlon contender Jeremy Teela has trained.


"It's at sea-level which is a lot easier than racing in altitude which is what the Olympic venue this year will be at. It's a pretty easy course. It's really fluid. There's a lot of down hills to rest on. It's a great course, and it's one of my favorites."

RS: Jeremy Teela goes to Lake Placid when there's snow. When I got there the grass was green, but you could pay to shoot just the same. I made a contribution to the United States Olympic Committee and was handed a biathlon rifle and five bullets.

I told my family that a long time ago at Camp Wingfoot for Girls in North Madison, Ohio, I was the greatest target shooter the camp had ever had. So good that I had won all the youth awards you could ever win from the National Rifle Association.

I entered N-R-A competitions and placed in the top ten among all the campers in the entire United States. With a chance to prove myself in Lake Placid some thirty some years later, I shouldered the biathlon rifle, closed one eye and nailed the first target.

I stopped for a breath and shot the second and third. A moment later targets four and five went down. Disbelief, wonder and awe embraced my family. The man who took my money in exchange for the shooting privileges told me, "Lady, no one walks off the street and does that."

My sons, who had a new respect for their mother, put me on a kind of Olympic pedestal for the rest of the day.

So, I can shoot, but what does it take to really compete in this sport? Jeremy Teela considered the best hope for the United States in Utah says the biathlon could have been within my reach - maybe.


"You know you could have been an Olympian. It only takes four or five years to learn how to ski well under the right coach, and the right program with the right funding. And, you need to be at the right age."

RS: That's all I wanted to hear -- affirmation from an Olympic athlete. Jeremy Teela says it's about learning how to pull the trigger at the right time. So, it's all about timing.

And, if you see him or any of the other athletes on the biathlon course at Soldiers Hollow in Utah, you'll want to know some of the terms posted on the U-S Biathlon Association website at

Jeremy Teela explains a few, starting with 'zero,' which is what you do before the race -- shoot at paper targets to align the rifle sights.


JEREMY TEELA: "You 'zero' the rifle every morning because bringing it in from out of the cold into the warm heat of your house will change the wooden stock. Or you might bump it when you put it in the trunk (of your car) and so you have to make sure that it is 'zeroed,' each day."

RS: "The next thing is something I am sure you ant to do every time you go out on the course. (That is) 'Shoot clean.' What is 'shooting clean'?"

TEELA: "'Shooting clean' is when you hit all 10 for 10, all 20 for 20 depending on the race. It's a good feeling. It's when you shoot perfect. You hit all your targets. You have no penalties, and it is the best thing that could happen to a biathlete during a race."

RS: "What does it mean 'to skate' in a biathlon?"

TEELA: "'Skate skiing' is one type of cross country skiing. It does the same movement as hockey players on the ice, but we are on long skies that are set up with a full glide zone, and we use the same movement as ice skaters would."

RS: "What is a 'snow guard' or a 'snow cover'?"

TEELA: "'Snow guard,' 'snow cover,' it's what is on the front and rear sites sights of your rifle. So, if it is snowing or if you happen to take a fall on a course on a downhill and you roll on to your back on to your rifle, the snow doesn't get jammed up inside the sight. So, when you lie down to shoot you look through the rifle, and it is clear instead of full of white snow which is a hassle."

RS: We hope we have armed you with a few new words to help you enjoy the Winter Olympics. And we invite you to join VOA in its daily coverage of the Games from Salt Lake City beginning later this week.

Avi Arditti and I will be back with WORDMASTER following the Olympics on March 3rd. And, as U-S biathlon contender Jeremy Teela told me, "If you've got an Olympic dream, go for it." I'm Rosanne Skirble.