What I use and what I think of it.
My rifle is an Anschütz-Fortner.
Barrels: Anschütz make
barrels in 2 weights (standard and sprint) and 3 materials (standard,
stainless and nitride steel) for biathlon.
I had a standard stainless
steel barrel. These were very popular a couple of years ago, but
are less so now. I don't know how they compare for accuracy with
the standard type, but they are much easier to maintain. I never
put oil in my barrel, and therefore never had to clean it out before
firing. I now have a Sprint nitride steel barrel: very hard and
durable, and seems to be just as accurate; whether it is as easy
to handle as a heavier one I am not sure.
The Fortner is the most commonly
used biathlon action. It is quick to use and causes minimal disruption
to the position, which is the most important factor.
The Baikal action (as used
by Frank Luck and many others) is very similar in use, perhaps requiring
less finger force, but an extra movement with the thumb. The Baikal
barrel is said to perform badly in cold conditions - but you can
get a new barrel easily enough, and the rifle will still cost less
than half the price of a Fortner. I don't know why they are less
The Suhl action (as used by Sven Fischer and Andrea
Henkel) looks very fast, but requires a lot of movement of the right
elbow, which I imagine is why it is not popular.
The Anschütz stock is
expensive and complicated, and is designed so that one stock is
adjustable to fit all users. There are many alternatives.
I had a Larsen stock, with the magazine housing
at the back. This was poorly thought out and amateurishly executed,
with very poor finish quality. I rectified some of the failings,
but others are fundamental. However, the basic geometry is good,
and the stock is light enough, and a lot cheaper than Anschütz's.
Larsen told me when I bought it that it was guaranteed against breakage,
but when I tried to take advantage of that it turned out that he
The new Anschütz stock has lots of adjustment
in it, in particular, the angle of the butt-plate is adjustable
around two axes, and the cheekpiece can be removed without losing
its adjustment. This latter allows you to remove the bolt to clean
the barrel or insert a dry-firing adapter without taking the receiver
off the stock - very handy. However, the stock is expensive, and
has a tendency to break where the harness attaches (noted at the
British championships, where a lot of people fall).
Both Anschütz's and Larsen's current models
take full advantage of the 9cm limit on vertical forestock depth,
which makes them easier to use standing than the old Anschütz.
I now (2001-2) use a stock made by someone near
Ruhpolding; it is very light and of a very soft wood, so I don't
expect it to last.
The stockmaker in Zinnwald makes beautiful, strong-looking
stocks which are lovely to shoot with, entirely tailor-made.
The stockmaker in Oberhof makes solid-looking stocks,
but quite expensive (the wood blank alone costs€250).
There are plenty of stock-makers around, and it
seems to be just a matter of asking whenever you see a stock you
I use a blinder that I bought
from a rifle shop, made of latex and in natural latex colour. This
has the advantage over my previous versions that I don't have to
move it each time I shoot, and is soft enough to be comfortable
when the rifle is on my back. Most people prefer black.
with the rope replaced with elastic. Anschütz now do an elastic
version. Larsen's harness is probably just as good, and is leather
rather than fabric. I much prefer elastic for getting on and off
in a hurry.
Handstop and sling: Anschütz.
Larsen's is easier to adjust, but once you have it right, Anschütz
is probably marginally more solid.
Cuff from Core Sport of the
USA (velcro-fastening: so much easier than the disgraceful version
supplied by Anschütz).
Larsen also makes an excellent one; so do a couple of others, while
many people used home-made cuffs.
Eley Tenex mostly, because
the British team has a good source for it. This was the predominant
target shooting ammunition but Eley's reputation had a knock a couple
of years ago and now it is not so much used. Perhaps that is why
we get it. It performs fine for biathlon, but it is worth wiping
the wax off the bullets as in cold conditions it gets very hard
to push the waxed round into the chamber, and the extra shove required
disrupts the position and hence slows shooting.
We tested quite a lot in Kiruna
in 1997when it was very cold (-20°C), and it was fine - apparently
not affected by the cold.
I now use Rossignol skis. Because of changing advice
from the reps I have some 1.9m and some 1.8m (I weigh about 73kg).
The top men all appear to use 1.8m.
Rossignols have great stability (meaning that they
tend to run straight when you put them down), and a feeling of liveliness
- or even springiness.
Madshus have a similar stability, but without the
springiness. I used to use Fischer, but although I had a couple
of good pairs, abandoned them because they were not nearly as stable
as Rossi - and Fischer were getting too hard to deal with.
I use Exel Avanti for skating,
Swix RC1/Star for classic. No particular reason for this.
There is little to choose
between the pole shafts; both are stiff, light, and strong enough
that I have never broken one. Perhaps the Swix are slightly lighter.
For biathlon I use plain old-fashioned straps,
which are quick and easy to get on and off. A couple of people use
wraparound straps, but they take a lot of practice to get up to
For cross-country, whether training or racing,
the modern velcro-fastening wraparound straps are far superior to
plain ones. Swix and Exel's systems look pretty similar, and it
is probably just a matter of personal preference. Strap systems
seem to change more or less each year.
I use Alpina, which I find
very comfortable. I had a pair of skate boots a size too big, so
I put an insole in them: they performed perfectly, and were also
extremely warm. Now I am using the correct size and wondering whether
it is in fact better to go too big. I find that I need custom insoles
to support my high arches (in all footwear).
Rossignol boots are lighter,
but much thinner and harder. They probably give more positive control,
but I found they were not the right shape for my feet.
Rottefella, because they and
Alpina were kind enough to give me a very good deal when I was buying
a lot of skis a couple of years ago.
I find the construction of
the old Rottefella binding a bit more convincing than that of the
Salomon Profil or Pilot, but in terms of performance there is little
to choose between them. As far as the new skate bindings are concerned,
I never suffered from the problems that the Salomon Pilot is supposed
to avoid, and I cannot discern any advantage in the new Rottefella
binding that came out in response. Perhaps I am just unperceptive.
I have now twice lost a ski
during a race, with the new Rottefella binding. This is obviously
unacceptable, and I have changed the bindings on the offending skis.
I think the problem is that it is quite difficult to get the toe
bar right into its slot, and tempting to force the closure lever
to push the bar down. Because there is already quite a gap between
the two clamps holding the toe bar, it takes very little forcing
to bend it and enlarge that gap enough to make it insecure. The
moral is never to force the binding closed, and to inspect them
for widening gaps. The old version does not suffer from this as
the clamps interlock very positively.
| Heart monitor
I use a Polar Accurex Plus,
with interface for downloading to my computer.
This is a very good piece
of kit: precise, with very little of the wild fluctuation that my
previous HRM had. It also has plenty of memory for recording long
or multiple sessions. The software (1998 version) is a little inflexible
but does the job. I don't know whether having all the pretty graphs
on my computer makes me any faster, but it appeals to my scientific
| Fuel - in-race
In marathons it is best to
carry a highly concentrated fuel as races generally provide water
or other drinks. A gel or bar contains more energy per ounce than
a drink, which is important if you are carrying it.
On the other hand, if you
carry your fluid then you have the choice of when to drink it -
the uphill feed stations at the Tranjurassienne are quite hard on
the legs, and in a big race like Engadin it can be tricky to get
to the feed stations without tripping over somebody.
The fuel must be very easy
to swallow - chewing each mouthful forty times is impractical when
you are out of breath. Gels are therefore easier than bars.
The packaging must be such
that you can access it very easily. I found gel sachets slightly
tricky and in the Arctic Race ended up with a lot of plastic between
my teeth; you also need to consider what you are going to do with
the empties, as you should not really leave them by the track. Gel
bottles (with a top openable with the teeth), especially if carried
on a belt designed for the purpose, look ideal.
Whatever you use, it will
get harder in the cold; at -22°C even a gel sachet takes some
chewing; a Power Bar is like glass, but harder. A heat sachet (like
a teabag full of iron filings) in the bottom of the carrying pouch
In biathlon, we usually take
fuels during Individual races (20km for men, 15km for women and
juniors), which can take over an hour on a bad day. A liquid fuel
works best for this, preferably with a little electrolyte as well.
Obviously it has to be very palatable as one is working at high
intensity. The Brit team is pretty individualistic, everyone using
a different drink.
You also have to consider
the container when you have a helper handing out drinks. Some of
us use tiny bottles; I prefer a normal drinks bottle with a nozzle
so that I can squirt it into my mouth rather than throwing my head
I also take a little fuel
15-20' before the start: usually a carbohydrate gel sachet (with
a little water) as they are easy to use. Liquid fuel as above would
do equally well, but is difficult to organise if I have to give
the bottle to the drink-holder some time before the start - and
I'm not prepared to scrub out two bottles.
| Fuel - post-race
My understanding is that it
is important to get about 50g of carbohydrate and some water in
as soon as possible after racing or training, ideally with about
20g of protein (this initial dose within 20' of the end of the session),
and a meal within 2 hours.
I have convinced my team of
the importance of the immediate post-race refuel. When we were racing
in Serre Chevalier in 2000, we would compete for the prize of most
bizarre refuel. At the finish of one race I was presented with a
sandwich consisting of an entire baguette filled with jam, Nutella,
dried bananas and plain chocolate. I ate it with delight.
Generally, after a race or
hard training I take a recovery drink immediately, at the moment
a High 5 one (mixed with milk) because we got a free supply, but
the requirement is for a very palatable mix of water, 20g protein,
50g carbohydrate. I then eat a jam sandwich (no butter, of course)
a little later, when I can cope). When I remember I sometimes add
a teaspoon (5g) of creatine, which I understand helps the recovery
process (distinct from the power/bulk-building regime of daily doses).
Bananas and other fruit are probably just as good if you eat enough