Hugh Pritchard, Biathlete

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Biathlon Shooting

To get a good result in a biathlon race you need to hit all or nearly all of the targets. You also need to do this pretty quickly, because if you don't you will be beaten by one of the Germans or Russians, at least a couple of whom are going to shoot clear despite the speed they ski and shoot at.

You will not shoot both fast and accurately all the time: biathlon is a risk sport. What you have to do is simply:

  1. Decide on a shooting speed that you think will give you a reasonable frequency of a successful shoot, while still keeping you in the race;
  2. Learn to shoot at this speed. At first it will seem difficult, even crazily fast, and you will have to force yourself to do it. But soon enough you will get used to it and find that you do not miss any more at this speed than you do shooting more slowly.

You need to allow enough time to learn this fast shooting, and not abandon it simply because you are missing targets. If you want to win, you have to shoot fast because most of the others are, and a couple of them are bound to shoot clear: you have to take the same risks - or learn to ski half a minute faster than anyone else, as Frode Andrésen has.

On the other hand, for most of us it is not about winning, and while the fastest shooters gain a few seconds on the range, the fastest skiers gain minutes out on the track. So perhaps shooting speed is not so important. Obviously accuracy is important - but even there is room for doubt: in the Sprint at the Oslo World Cup in 2001, the top 3 men had 7 penalties between them. And at the athletes' forum they were saying that the penalty in the Individual race is too big.

Dry firing practice is a vital part of learning to shoot quickly: there are probably parts of your drills that can be made quicker (watch Andrea Henkel for some spectacularly unnecessary actions on the firing point: slick and well-rehearsed, but very badly designed). You can also improve with practice your ability to get into the right position first time. Jean-Pierre Amat, former Olympic shooting champion and now shooting coach to the French team, says that an hour a day of dry training, in addition to time on the range, is important. Jock Allan, former world champion and Olympic medallist, talks of spending 8 hours a day at the range, and firing up to 1,200 rounds a week.

Exercises to improve shooting speed:

  • Dry shooting - practice going through the entire sequence, looking for opportunities to streamline the process.
  • Static shooting: simply fire 4 magazines, prone/stand/prone/stand as in a race, retiring a few feet from the mat between magazines (best with skis/roller-skis on). 2'20" is pretty good; 2' is excellent; I have seen 1'40".
  • Static shooting: fire 20x1 shot, getting up and leaving the mat after each shot. Change magazines for each shot. This emphasises speed to the first shot, and 5' is extremely good.
  • Mental training is important: quick shooting is largely about confidence and accepting risk. This is not easy, as most people's natural inclination when lying on the shooting mat is to do whatever is necessary to be sure of hitting the target - ie wait. You have to overcome this natural inclination - and accept that it will not always work.