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Published March 14, 2011, 01:01 PM

Behold the biathlon

TOWNER, N.D. — No one’s ever accused me of being a jock. Sure I played plenty of red barn basketball and backyard baseball, but I didn’t do a lot of organized athletic school sports.

By: Ryan Taylor, Special to Agweek

TOWNER, N.D. — No one’s ever accused me of being a jock. Sure I played plenty of red barn basketball and backyard baseball, but I didn’t do a lot of organized athletic school sports.

I never played football. I ran a little track because I could train on the gravel roads around home without having to drive 32 miles round trip each day for practice. My basketball was strictly neighborhood league; we called ourselves the Smokey Lake Lakers. I wasn’t very good, but I was tall.

We didn’t have wrestling in my school when I went. We didn’t have a baseball team.

But I was plenty active. There’s always plenty of exercise for a kid growing up on a ranch. We didn’t call it exercise, though. We called it work. It was physical, and it was part of my education, but it wasn’t what you’d think of as physical education.

I did get time for recreation, though. I did a lot of hunting. Walked a lot of fields for grouse, hiked plenty of pastures looking for deer. Carried a shotgun or a rifle like it was an extension of myself.

I did a lot of fur trapping for coyotes, muskrats, beaver and mink. Much of that meant strapping on my cross-country skis, swinging a pack basket of gear onto my back and heading out across the snow a mile or so to the frozen lakes and sloughs on our meadow.

So I suppose if I had to pick a sport where I’d have a little experience and a remote chance of being competitive, it wouldn’t be something normal like football, basketball or baseball. I’d have to pick the biathlon.

Yes, the much celebrated biathlon — watched by millions of adoring fans, televised worldwide on network and cable broadcasts, kids trading cards and buying posters of their favorite biathletes, stadiums selling out their entire venue for people wanting to see a little of the excitement as participants race on cross-country skis, stop and shoot their rifles at targets and ski some more. Or maybe not.

Ski and shoot

But not every sport has to be about attracting fans. I’m fine with the satisfaction of individual achievement, personal records, the camaraderie of a small team of skiers and shooters excelling at something that few people even understand.

I really like cross-country skiing, and I like shooting guns, and I like people who are a little out of the mainstream of sports. I need to find me a biathlon team to join up with.

I might just have to join the National Guard. I’m very proud to say my home state North Dakota National Guard holds the national title in the biathlon amongst their fellow Guard competitors. They’re defending that title now out in Vermont.

I like that there’s still military training for winter combat situations where you might end up skiing and shooting a gun in the defense of your country. There’s plenty of high tech in the armed forces, I like to see a little old-style training and competition.

I may not be cut out for Army life, but I will cheer from the home front for my fellow North Dakotans in their biathletic endeavors. I doubt that I’ll be able to see the competition on the Sunday sports shows. It may be a little like golf — more fun to play than to watch on television.

The biathlon is a winter Olympic sport, though, so at least once every four years we all can become fans of the athletes that ski and shoot and ski and shoot. So get ready, biathlon fans, for the 2014 winter games in Sochi, Russia.

And if you go to the games to cheer for your favorite biathlon team, be respectful of all those competing. Remember, these athletes are armed.

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