David Joyce's blog: Why are Europeans always dominant in this sport?

David Joyce

Hi everybody,

Well, it’s absolutely sweltering here in Perth. It got to 41 degrees today and my air conditioning is still broken so I’ve had to resort to keeping cool with plenty of iced drinks and watching winter sports on TV.

There’s plenty of great winter sport action going on in the Northern Hemisphere at the moment ranging from Alpine skiing to Skeleton World Championships. One of the biggest events on the calendar though is the Biathlon World Champs.

For those of you who know nothing of biathlon (and, chances are, unless you’re from Northern Europe, you don’t), it’s an endurance sport that combines cross country skiing with rifle shooting.

Legend has it that it was initially a sport used to keep Norwegian soldiers fit. If we look at the countries that dominate the sport, of the almost 800 medals awarded at the world championships since they were first contested in 1958, only 7 medals have come from outside Europe (China has 3 medals with Canada and USA two apiece).

What is it about the sport that makes the Europeans so dominant?

As is the case with many ‘hot spots’ of champions, it needs a tradition. Europe, particularly Russia, Germany, Norway and France have this tradition. This means that it is a ‘cool’ thing for youth athletes to do, which encourages them to train from a young age, perhaps the greatest determinant of success in any field of discipline.

The second thing, something closely related to the first is climate and geography. Europe’s snow fields and weather are perfectly set up for this. There’s altitude (perfect for aerobic adaptations) and plenty of snow.

The same could be said of the USA, Canada and Japan. However, without the successful heritage, there are few role models or icons upon which to pin childhood sporting dreams. As such, kids tend to be attracted to other sports.

Cross country skiing is a very difficult pursuit at the best of times without having to accurately shoot throughout the race. Shooting is tough enough, without complicating it with having to complete up to 20km of cross country skiing as well! This requires both supreme levels of fitness but an ability to be calm (both mentally and physiologically) so that accuracy with the bullet doesn’t waiver.

These guys not only have to be as fit as butcher’s dogs, they need to be precision athletes that can control their own physiology (heart rate, blood pressure etc) and concentration to be successful. Quite a task, I’m sure you’ll agree! I’ll just stick to watching it on telly, I think!

Next week, we’ll head back to the rugby pitch as one of the key matches in the RBS 6 Nations takes place between two of the pre-tournament favourites, France and England. I tipped the English to win the Grand Slam this year and it will be interesting to see how they fare against the French who have had a terrible start to the tournament but usually play well against the “Rosbifs”.

Til next week,

Stay robust amigos


David Joyce

David is the Head of Athletic Performance at Emirates Western Force in the Southern Hemisphere’s Super Rugby Competition. He holds Masters degrees in both Sports Physiotherapy and Strength and Conditioning and lectures in Sports Physiotherapy at the University of Bath (UK) and in Exercise Science (S+C) at Edith Cowan University (Australia).


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