With the 2002 Winter Olympic Games fast approaching competitors are gearing up to prepare and qualify. In Duluth, one of the world's top biathletes is working on her skiing and shooting, despite the recent warm weather.
Kara Salmela walks through the woods with her husband and coach, Cory. They are on their way to the shooting range. It's cold but there's not enough snow to ski. That's a problem, because the skiing is half the biathlon.
Competitors ski laps around a course with a rifle strapped to their back. During the race, competitors must stop at different times and fire five bullets to hit five targets. Missing a target means penalty laps or penalty time. Competitors must get their heart rate down quickly so they can shoot straight.
"Back in the early days it was very military. Big, large-bore rifles and there were many different ranges, longer distances," says Salmela. "Now the sport has evolved into a fast-paced, really exciting television sport. It has become the number one winter sport in Europe on television in the last four years."
Out at the shooting range, Kara gives it her best shot. Literally. She's sprawled across the ground, aiming a rifle at series of targets 50 meters away. Cory is spying through a scope at the target, counting off seconds.
She fires at one of the hockey puck-sized targets. A metal arm pops up, signaling a hit. After Kara squeezes off four more shots she jumps to her feet and swings the rifle's straps around her shoulders.
Four years ago Salmela placed 56th at the Winter Olympics in Nagano. Last spring, she won the silver medal at the World Military Ski Championships. She hopes to compete in this winter's Olympics.
Salmala says biathlons are her life. She trains when there isn't snow by running and roller skiing. She shoots up to 300 rounds in a day.
"It's a lot of discipline, because it's a sport you have to train for year-round," Kara says. "That's another reason it's been my full time job for the last six years."
Salmela became a competitive biathlete when she was at college at the University of Minnesota, Duluth nine years ago. She was on the college ski team and friends urged her to give the biathlon a try. That meant learning a new sport - shooting. She says if you are learning the second skill to become an athlete, this is the way to go.
"Definitely the skier to shooter in this sport. Unless you catch the shooter when they are very young. For someone who is just a shooter and hasn't had any fitness, it is almost impossible," she says.
The trials for the U.S. Olympic biathlon team begin at the end of December in Salt Lake City. Cory Salmela, who is also the junior Olympic biathlon coach, says now there is just one thing to do.
"Practice and practice and practice. That's what it's like with shooting. It's opposite of the sport of skiing, where you need a lot of training and technique. In skiing it is important, but physiology and your natural ability are probably more important. That's why the 25th-ranked athlete can probably still win the biathlon World Cup. That doesn't happen in skiing."
Cory says Kara is a strong skier, but her shooting skills have hindered her in the past. He says this year they're putting extra work into that area. Last spring she hit all the targets at the World Military Championships and won a silver medal. Cory says if she does that again, there is good chance she could stand on the podium at the Salt Lake City Olympics.
Footnote: Kara Salmela qualified for the U.S. Olympic Biathlon team at the Olympic trials in early January. She is joined on the team by Andrea Nahrgang of Wayzata and Dan Campbell of Hastings.More Information