The IBU Summer Biathlon World Championships have evolved from the cross-country running to the rollerski format over the years. As the equipment evolved, so did the programme. Many biathlon’s big names took part during the event's history but not on a consistent level.
At the Premiere in Hochfilzen…
The first IBU Summer Biathlon World Championships were held on a very hot and wet weekend in Hochfilzen in 1996. The competitions were simple: individual and sprint for men and women, not on rollerskis but cross-country running. The Hochfilzen venue was quite different from today's; no rollerski tracks, minimal stadium, and hand-operated targets. Most of the running tracks were on the lower meadow that is so prominent today. The field included many recognizable names from that era, including young Ole Einar Bjoerndalen.
There were puddles everywhere
The first IBU SBWCH Gold Medal went to two-time World Cup winner Alexey Kobelev in the 6 km individual competition. Kobelev recalled that day.
“I remember it was rainy, and there were puddles everywhere. The track was rough, and it turned into a sloppy mess. At first, all the athletes tried to go around the puddles, but, getting wet, they began to run recklessly right through them. By the finish, I was dirty from my heels to the top of my head. It was so sloppy that on the pre-finish climb Vadim Sashurin lost a shoe in the mud and finished without it.”
Olga Nazarova of Belarus was the biggest female star of the early cross-country running IBU SBWCH. She won 18 IBU SBWCH medals between 2000 and 2005, including an astonishing 10 golds. Her sprint sweep from 2002-04 illustrates her dominance but 2004 adds an exclamation mark. That year in Brezno Osrblie, the Belarusian swept the Championships, taking the sprint, pursuit, mass start, and anchoring the winning relay team.
Wheels and Kaisa enter the picture
In 2006, the first rollerskis competitions, including sprint and pursuit with traditional distance, were held in conjunction with three cross-country competitions in Ufa, Russia.
Otepaa hosted the 2007 IBU SBWCH. Several months before her first-ever BMW IBU World Cup podium in Pokljuka, then 24-year-old Kaisa Makarainen won the sprint-pursuit double. The next time Otepaa hosted the IBU SBWCH in 2016, Makarainen showed up for her second SBWCH. Yet the 2016 version of Kaisa was very different from 2007. In the intervening years, she climbed the podium repeatedly and won the IBU World Cup Total Score twice, while becoming one of the biggest stars in the sport. Once again, she walked away with two Gold medals, in the pursuit and mixed relay.
IBU Summer Biathlon World Championships evolved with Makarainen’s career: Oberhof 2009 was the last combined event; from Duszniki Zdroj 2010 on, there was no more cross country running, just rollerskiing.
Only once in France, but . . .
The Championships have only been conducted once in France, at Haute Maurienne, in 2008. The junior men’s sprint looked a lot like a preview of future World Cup stars. The winner was Martin Fourcade (big brother Simon won the men’s sprint). On the podium with the future seven-time World Cup Total Score winner were Benjamin Weger and future Olympic Silver medalist and now Belgium coach Jean Guillaume Beatrix. Further down in the results were future Olympic medalists and World Cup winners Jakov Fak, Dominik Windisch, and Lukas Hofer. Fifth in the sprint, as well as fourth in the pursuit, was 18-year-old Dorothea Wierer; She won the women’s sprint Gold medal in that rollerski competition in 2013.
The development of rollerskis
The rollerski was first introduced in the 1930s with one wheel at the front and two at the back. Coinciding with Hochfilzen 1996 the rollerski adopted a new design with two wheels at the front and the back, lighter material, and consequent higher speed. Modern rollerskis with a carbon frame imitate the conditions of cross-country skiing and gliding on the snow. Rollerski with aluminum bases is more rigid and stable. They allow for easier pushing and are used at the IBU sanctioned events. The rubber of the wheels is of such high quality and so adaptable to different weather conditions that they enable fair competition in any circumstances.
To ensure fair and as equal as possible conditions for the athletes at the IBU SB WCH, German company SRB and Finland company Marwe provide almost identical rollerskis to everybody.
The usual program
Super Sprint, Sprint and Pursuit are the usual compact program at the IBU Summer World Championships to keep the event short and exciting and not to interfere with summer training plans too much.
Photo: IBU Archive