BIATHLON HISTORY – Difficult Ascent
Military patrol runs were already known and established in the Prussian, Bavarian and Italian Military Mountain Troops in the 1920s and 30s. These were entertainment demonstrations during the 1928, 1936 and 1948 Winter Olympic Games and the sport gained popularity in the military sports associations. Over time these demonstrations developed into contests with which troops could measure their own performance ability and showcase it to the public. After the war, in 1949 the responsible bodies of the International Olympic Committee and the International Combined Athletics Union discussed various models of combined competition forms in winter sports. The Swedish model, a combination of cross country skiing and shooting, ultimately gained approval and was given the name “biathlon” upon recommendation from the president, Sven Thofelt.
Thus began, albeit hesitantly at first, the civilian development of the sport of biathlon though it remained in the shadows until the end of the sixties. Gaining recognition as a sports discipline by the International Multidisciplinary Sport Federation, paved the way for the first official World Championships, which took place in 1958 in Saalfelden, Austria. Biathlon’s Snow-White sleep lasted until 1972 because up until that point, the sport was practiced almost exclusively by members of the army, customs, and border patrol units. With the transition from large to small caliber rifles in 1978, the biathlon was able to develop into a popular sport.
In spite of a noticeable upswing following the 1966 Biathlon World Championships in Garmisch, international championships were not conducted there again until the winter of 1969, when Ruhpolding’s biathlon pioneer Theo Merkel won, thereby proving his ability compared to the competition from Eastern Germany. These races took place under very basic outdoor conditions. The athletes themselves groomed the tracks in the deep, soft snow and large-caliber carbines were used to shoot at balloons blown up into cardboard packaging.