Biathlon is one of the most televised winter sports events in Europe, and lately also one of the biggest scandals with three Russian athletes testing positive for a type of EPO.
Yekaterina Iourieva, the reigning world champion, was one of the athletes to test positive, along with Albina Akhatova, a three-time world champion, and Dmitri Yaroshenko, a member of the national relay team. They failed tests at a World Cup event in Korea in mid-February.
Soon afterwards, Sweden's male biathlete team received e-mailed death threats from Russia, apparently in reprisal for a blog entry by a Swedish biathlete titled "idiots." It kind of went downhill from there, and the Swedish team requested security for the final World Cup event in Russia, from March 25 to 29.
This sets up this week's IBU Biathlon World Cup events taking place at Whistler Olympic Park. An official 2010 Olympic test event, athletes will put the course, firing range and staff through the paces, evaluating everything before the Games.
The estimated television audience is in the tens of millions, with huge viewer numbers in the Scandinavian Countries and northern Europe.
The sport is unique, combining the aerobic fitness of cross-country skiing with the precision of target shooting, and athletes are reportedly able to reduce their heart rates from 200 beats per minute to 140 bpm within a few seconds to be able to aim their rifles properly.
The World Cup events are free for spectators. The individual competition was on Wednesday, followed by the Sprint Competition on Friday, the women's relay on Saturday and the men's relay on Sunday.
The women's sprint competition gets underway at 10:15 a.m., with participants making three laps of a 2.5 km loop, stopping twice to shoot. The men's sprint is at 2 p.m. with participants making three laps of a 3.3 km course. Athletes start 30 seconds apart, and must do a lap of the 150-metre penalty loop for every target they miss at the range.
On Saturday the women's relay gets underway at 12:30 p.m. with each of the four members of the team making three laps of a 2 km course and shooting twice in between laps. Each athlete gets an extra three bullets at the range, and must ski laps of the penalty loop for every missed target.
On Sunday the men's relay teams ski three laps of a 7.5 km course, with the competition getting underway at 10 a.m.
For more information, visit www.biathlon-vancouver.com.