Biathlon combines cross-country skiing in the freestyle technique (skating) and small-bore rifle marksmanship. The aerobic demands required to ski quickly coupled with the tranquility required to shoot accurately have often been compared to trying to run up several flights of stairs and then trying to thread a needle. This contrast makes for certain drama in the sport.
Here are some key story lines to follow leading up to Vancouver:
Europeans to dominate again
The Germans, Norwegians and Russians have traditionally finished atop the medal podium at the Games and Vancouver should be no exception. Germany leads the way, having won a total of 38 medals (including 14 gold) since biathlon was added to the Olympic program in 1960.
In Vancouver, Germany's Michael Greis is expected to do well again. Greis won three gold medals in Torino (15km mass start, 20km individual, 4x7.5km relay). He was a member of the bronze medal-winning relay team at the 2009 World Championships and could again win multiple individual medals in 2010.
Bjoerndalen back for more
The toughest competition for Greis and Germany is likely to come from Norway. Nine-time Olympic medalist Ole Einar Bjoerndalen will look to add to his collection at age 36. Having won three individual gold medals (20km individual, 10km sprint, 12.5km pursuit) at the 2009 Worlds, he has demonstrated that he is still among the men to beat. Teammate Halvard Hanevold, who will be 40 in Vancouver, who won silver in the sprint and bronze in the individual in Torino, is hoping to win another individual medal in what will be his fifth and, likely, final Olympic Winter Games. Bjoerndalen, Hanevold and teammate Emil Hegle Svendsen will make the Norwegians tough to beat in the relay. They were the 2009 world champions in the event.
Other possible medalists on the men's side include Poland's Tomasz Sikora, a silver medalist in the mass start in 2006 as well as Austria's Dominick Landertinger and the Russians, Yevgeny Ustyugov, Maxim Tchoudov and Ivan Tcherezov.
German women are strong
On the women's side, the Germans are expected to dominate both the individual and relay events. Veteran Kati Wilhelm leads the way for the Germans. She won two gold and two silver medals at the 2009 World Championships. Joining her will be Olympic rookies Magdalena Neuner, Simone Hauswald and Tina Bachmann, two-time Olympic champion Andrea Henkel and Martina Beck, who won three silver medals in 2006.
Looking to break the German stranglehold on the medal podium will be Sweden's Helena Jonsson, who won gold and silver at the 2009 World Championships and will be making her Olympic debut in Vancouver. Other potential medalists include Norway's Tora Berger and Russia's Olga Zaitseva.
U.S. streak to continue
The United States has never won an Olympic biathlon medal, and that is unlikely to change in Vancouver. Tim Burke and Jeremy Teela represent the best U.S. hopes, but they are long-shot contenders at best. Neither Burke nor Teela has ever finished in the top-five at a world championships. Teela finished third in the 20km individual event in Whistler in March 2009, the first World Cup biathlon podium for the U.S. since 1992. Teela had a near-perfect day that he is not expected to repeat at the Games.