When I ask most people what their favorite event in the Winter Olympics is they usually go with Figure Skating, Alpine Skiing or, if they’re under 25 or conscious of growing old, Snowboarding. You’ll get a few outliers, people that don’t realize they can watch Hockey the rest of the year as much as they want or that moguls are the sporting event version of torture porn, but those are the big three. My favorite event however, which rests atop a well-balanced pedestal in my mind, is the Biathlon.
There are a variety of reasons I like the Biathlon best. It’s one of the only events that reminds me of the Olympics earliest historical conception, where the games were extensions of everyday activities, the Marathon the distance from Athens to the city of Marathon, the Javelin a test of a hunter’s prowess. I can see Norwegian men setting out into a bleached-slate morning, beards frosted, to ski through powdery dells and crunchy frozen woods, carbine to the their back, racing against the sun to shoot enough small game for dinner. I also enjoy it because I like odd combos, like beer and tomato juice, circular pretzels and processed cheese filling or skiing and guns.
The real reason I think the Biathlon, to use the words of a 1940’s movie star, is “the tops”, is because it makes an argument for an increased focus in our American culture on two things we are clearly lacking focus on, Guns and Leisure Activities. In the fifty years that the Biathlon has been an official event in the Winter Olympics America has yet to medal. Three of the top ten countries in Biathlon medals don’t even exist anymore and we can’t break onto the podium. What does it say to the rest of the world when we don’t even have a Bronze in Biathlon?
I’ll tell you what it says, it says we have way too few guns in this country and way too little leisure time. The Biathlon is more than an Olympic event, its a barometer of our culture’s misdirection. Until a man (or woman) stands before our National Anthem with a piece of precious alloy swinging from his (or her) neck, we’ll know, as a country, we still have a long way to come.