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Biathlon – mental and physical strength on show

Posted Thursday 16 August 2018

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The Olympic sport of Biathlon is hugely popular in Europe, but it might surprise many people that it is also a sport with a growing base in Australia.

Winter Olympics and James Bond

Combining the power of cross-country skiing and the precision of rifle shooting, biathlon is a timed race, where missed shots in the shooting component result in distance or time penalties.

While biathlon has been a part of the Winter Olympics since 1924, it was famously brought to popular attention in the 1981 James Bond film ‘For Your Eyes Only’.

Many people might also not be aware that Mt Hotham hosts the only biathlon range in Australia, thanks to a $100,000 funding boost from the Victorian State Government in 2017, which enabled a significant expansion and upgrade. Danielle Green, Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Victoria and Tourism and Major Events, is the Patron for the Australian Biathlon Association, and attended the Future Stars Camp in July to meet the athletes.

Biathlon home among the (snow) gum trees

Administered by Australian Biathlon Association (ABA), the national Federation and Peak Body in Australia for Biathlon, the Hotham Biathlon Arena has a very picturesque setting among the snowgums at Whiskey Flat, at an altitude of 1,600m.

This week, the Australian National Biathlon Championships are being held at Mt Hotham, and the ABA is also hosting the Korean National Biathlon Team, who are visiting to train in their off-season and to take part in the event. It’s the first time in decades that an international team has visited, and the newly upgraded facility has definitely been a key part of the change.

John Mahon, Executive Officer of the Australian Biathlon Association, is keenly aware of where biathlon fits in a snowsports environment dominated by alpine skiing and snowboarding.

“Biathlon is a low cost entry point to snowsports, and it’s a great way for people to experience this wonderful environment,” he says.

Inclusive environment

The ABA has a strong focus on providing an inclusive environment, promoting biathlon for all ages and levels of ability. Their members span school-age children using laser rifles (no ammunition) to high-performance athletes, masters and even veteran (over 50) competitors. The ABA is the only pathway in Australia for participation in international events.

They’re fortunate to have the services of Luca Bormolini as the head coach of the Australian team. Luca is a former member of the Italian national biathlon team, and debuted in the 2008 European Cup. After retiring due to injury in 2010, he moved into coaching and has been working with the Australian national team since 2013.

We were fortunate to meet some of the competitors at the Future Stars Camp in July. Jill Colebourn, the current Australian national biathlon champion, regularly competes in international events and at 22 is one of Australia’s finest biathletes. Jill, who studies Mechatronic Engineering and Commerce at the University of Sydney, achieved Olympic qualifying points at international events in January this year, but unfortunately missed out on Pyeong Chang due to the team not achieving a wild card entry.  

Jill was attending the High Performance Camp as athlete, and assisting with training of young participants at the Future Stars Camp. Later in July she topped the podium at the Victorian Championships.

Young stars

The Future Stars Camps are incredibly important as a way to encourage and identify the up and coming biathletes. We spoke to Tahlia and Saxon, who are both young competitors from Bairnsdale, and have been competing in biathlon for about two years. They showed us the ropes (see the photo gallery above) and demonstrated the techniques for sighting up the laser rifles – harder than it looks!

Laser rifles are used by competitors under 12, but older competitors use rifles with live ammunition, so there are very strict rules about behaviour within the sport, for obvious safety reasons.

Amity, 15 years old, is from Wodonga, and has been competing in biathlon since she was 12. She started in snowsports at the age of about 3 with cross-country skiing, and was introduced to biathlon at school. She was invited to take part in the High Performance Camps when she was thirteen, and loved it.

Amity would love to race overseas and compete in the Youth Olympics, but points out that it’s extremely competitive and difficult to qualify. However she’s keen to compete in the Nationals this weekend, and in the long-term is aiming for a career in coaching for skiing and biathlon.

Campbell Wright, 16, hails from New Zealand and is the only biathlete in that country, so regularly trains with the Australian team locally and overseas at the training camps in Livigno, Italy. He’s been involved in biathlon since he was ten years old and is also a New Zealand champion cross country skier.

Australian Biathlon Championships - Sat 18 Aug - Sunday 19 Aug

These athletes and many more will be competing in this weekend’s 2018 Australian Biathlon Championships at the Hotham Biathlon Arena, in a field of 100 participants, including the Korean World Cup Biathlon team.

There will also be a large contingent in the laser biathlon category, which allows competitors under 12 to take part. Competition starts at 9:30am so arrive early to get a good position to watch all the action! Or watch the Facebook livestream on Snow.tv.

For more great stories about what's happening around Hotham, sign up to the weekly Hotham Herald here.

Biathlon is a low cost entry point to snowsports, and it’s a great way for people to experience this wonderful environment

John Mahon, Executive Officer, Australian Biathlon Association


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