Shootin' from the hip

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 12:45 PM ET

Refreshments and ammunition will be supplied. There might have been more information in the press release, but I never made it to the end. To paraphrase the Jerry McGuire line, they had me at "ammunition.''

Head down to the Edmonton Nordic Ski Club, grab some weapons, go postal on the shooting range and learn all you can about the Canadian biathlon championships?

Having never shot a gun before (save for Grade 6 outdoor ed class), this invitation was too cool to pass up. And really, what's to learn? Biathlon is made up of two parts: cross country skiing, also known as the part that sucks, and shooting guns, also known as the part that keeps Republicans in office.

So there we were, the media and sponsors decked out in everything biathlon - except the spandex, which was probably for the best - and looking like an aging Norwegian street gang.

Apparently, biathlon began a century ago in the Nordic military, when Swedes would get all decked out in flashy spandex outfits and ski out for target practice on enemies trapped waist-deep in snow.

Of course, this begs two questions: I'm no military strategist, but why didn't they just attack Sweden in the summer when those fancy skis of theirs would be useless in the dirt? Secondly, why would anyone ever attack lovable, peaceful Sweden? Sure, they could lower the price of Volvos and eliminate excess packaging on Toblerones, but that's hardly worth an invasion.

But we digress. It was time to try biathlon. The skiing part looked interesting, and we all promised ourselves we'd get around to it sometime, but CFRN's Dave Mitchell, CHED's Al Stafford and I went straight to the rifle range, where we paced around mumbling along the lines of "The guns! When do we get the freakin' guns?''

SAFETY INSTRUCTIONS

After some boring safety instructions - don't point loaded weapons at people, yadda yadda yadda - they gave us the freakin' guns.

The first thing you do, according to my instructor, national champion Jaime Robb, is lay in the prone position with your weapon, slide the butt-hook under your shoulder and press the cheek plate against your face.

Now, there used to be a time when a sentence like that left me laughing for hours. Butt-hook? Cheek plate against the face? What is this, a test to see if we're mature enough to shoot guns? Fortunately we're older now and the Beavis and Butthead chuckling only lasted a minute or two.

The instructions worked, though, because I hit my first three targets, about the size of compact discs, from 50 metres away. Reload, three for five again. Man, I should be doing "cleanup'' work for the CIA. Then came the standing shot, and the reason I'm not doing cleanup work for the CIA.

ZERO FOR FIVE

Your arm shakes, your body rocks, a simple breath throws everything out of line. Zero for five, and let's hope the range is a long way from the highway because I don't think I hit the backboard.

Maybe I should join a gun club. What? The skiing part? Oh yeah, we forgot. You hate to shoot and run, so we put on the skis to be polite, grabbed the poles and immediately collapsed in crumpled heaps like we'd somehow wandered onto the wrong side of the shooting range. Our instructors laughed. "You're getting the hang of it,'' lied Robb. "But instead of a skating motion, why not try double-poleing?''

Is everything about this sport a double entendre? Keep your feet still, swallow your pride and push yourself around like a three-year-old would. It's more like cross-country shoving, but at least you're upright.

Then came the media race. Ski a lap, go three for five in the prone, ski some more, zero for five in standing shot, and ski one final lap. I finished tied for second behind Mitchell. He was wearing snowshoes so the result doesn't count.

Great fun, even the skiing. And I have a newfound admiration for anyone who can push their bodies to the physical limits one second, then settle their nerves enough to shoot with precision accuracy the next.

As cool as it was, though, I don't know if skiing and shooting will ever catch on in the mainstream, and maybe that's for the best. Half-stoned snowboarders in baggy pants and hoodies shooting rifles all over Marmot Basin can't be good.

- The Canadian National Biathlon Champsionships continue at the Strathcona Science Park today and tomorrow.


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