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Skiing in Russia and the Significance of Soviet Biathlon

Nowhere in the world was the sport of biathlon, a combination of cross-country skiing and rifle marksmanship, taken more seriously than in the Soviet Union, and no other nation garnered greater success at international venues. From the introduction of modern biathlon in 1958 to the USSR's demise in 1991, athletes representing the Soviet Union won almost half of all possible medals awarded in world championship and Olympic competition. Biathletes of the USSR were so dominant that at major events their victory was often a foregone conclusion. Yet more than sheer technical skill created Soviet superiority in biathlon. The inherent characteristics of biathlon, which required stamina and precision in a quasi-military setting, dovetailed with important concepts promoted by the Soviet government. The sport also supplied an opportune platform for promoting the State's socialist viewpoint and military might. Biathlon, in other words, was about more than simply winning Olympic medals. Currently the most popular winter spectator sport in Europe, biathlon looms large in the history of global athletics, and in the event's early narrative the Soviet Union was its most important player.
William D. Frank (Stanford ’74, MA ’75) earned his PhD in History at the University of Washington. He competed in the United States Biathlon Team Selection Trials for the 1980 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, New York and the 1981 Biathlon World Championships in Lahti, Finland, the United States Biathlon Qualification Race Series for the 1984 Winter Olympic Games in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, the United States Biathlon National Championships of 1979 and 1981, and the United States National Cross-Country Championships of 1985. He is an occasional lecturer in History and Humanities at Central Washington University. His most recent opinion piece - "What biathlon means to Russia" - appeared in The Boston Globe in February 2014. Frank is the author of Everyone to skis! Skiing in Russia and the Rise of Soviet Biathlon (Northern Illinois University Press, 2013).



Monday, October 27, 2014. 12:00PM


Encina Hall West, Room 208


CREEES Center for Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies




Open to Stanford affiliates only. RSVP requested.