British Biathlon Club
The Club's History
"History is important: it explains how we got here and why. If we ignore our history, we are doomed to fail."
Our name 'British Biathlon Club' was formalised in 2010 from a collection of antecedent biathlon groups and clubs, but the people and their passion that made it all come together in the UK had been on the journey for many years before then.......in fact before the change to only skating (from its roots in classic skiing, up to 1986) and the evolution of the modern biathlon rifle.
BIATHLON'S EARLY DAYS - 'DEER HUNTING' IN SQUAW VALLEY'S 1960 OLYMPICS TO GAME-CHANGING RIMFIRE 1978
From it's first formalised appearance as 'biathlon' in the 1960 Olympic Games up until 1977, biathlon shooting was conducted with full-bore rifles of any bore up to 9mm, the most common preference being the 7.92mm Mauser, and at 4 different ranges in each 20km race; so not surprisingly, the participants and their organisers were mostly military – whether Soviet Union border guards, Norwegian National Servicemen, or indeed British soldiers.
With the adoption of the new falling-plate target machines and rimfire rifles in 1978, it became easier in the UK to train for the marksmanship skills required for biathlon. It took time for the small-bore system to grow a strong and regular base, but the GB armed forces embraced it wholesale, and by the mid-1980s there were around 600 soldiers competing every year at 4 divisional meetings, alongside a smaller Royal Marines contingent, and an even smaller Royal Air Force team.
Our trials with installing lights at Glenmore --> range to extend the use of the range to year-round: the zero isotherm often drifts vertically around Glenmore altitude, so it can be very very cold, yet wet and exposed - and obviously dark - in the late autumn.
The change to the low-energy 0.22in rimfire target rifles made it a whole lot easier not only to use existing rifle clubs with suitable 25m and 50m ranges, but also to persuade land owners to allow non-formal range shooting on their land: there were quite a few ‘biathlon target ranges’ using this legal umbrella, and indeed the GBR and RAF biathlon teams had such field ranges at Glenmore, RAF Lyneham, Colerne Barracks and Edinburgh amongst others. Moreover, it was much easier to find a local indoor club to practice the crucial underpinning skills of marksmanship.
THE UK NORDIC SCENE
There was a strong programme of cross-country ski racing in Scotland, particularly during the 1980s, and even Sheffield and Yorkshire Dales Nordic Club held race meetings on snow. There were around 6 race weekends each winter, programmed well in advance because the snowfall could be relied upon. There were novice fun runs, and formal racing over distances from a 1km Classic Sprint (UK Championships, Glenmore) up to the 15km Classic (in both UK Championship Glenmore and the UKLF Championships at Clashindarroch) and the 20km Glenisla March (classic until 1987, and skating thereafter), and all of this was underpinned by mass participation in forest and mountain touring which often extended November to May.
Great Britain had a very strong squad of international cross country skiers, mostly military athletes, and notably Aviemore twins Ewan and Louise McKenzie who were '100% home-grown civilians' holding their places in Army and Royal Marines domination of the sport - although Louise's female team mate in the 1988 Olympics Calgary who shared the accolade of first women nordic Olympians for GBR was Jean Watson of the Royal Air Force. The GBR Biathlon Team had a (classic) rollerski range at Dreghorn (Edinburgh) in the early 1980s, but biathlon racing did not arrive on UK snow until the UKLF Championships at Clashindarroch in 1990 and 1991.....and not since.
^ Louise went on to race in biathlon for GBR, 1990-1994
CLIMATE CHANGE - THE GAME-CHANGER Sadly, despite Scotland now having at least one biathlon range continuously since 1991, there have been no on-snow biathlon events since then, due primarily to unpredictability of snow cover. However, the number of training venues that BBC operates means that at least now we have far more access to elite biathlon training, 'Biathlon for All' and 'Biathlon 365' than ever, which means the UK continues to be a player on the biathlon stage. We are also poised with a mobile range setup to re-trial Clashindarroch when chance arises, and we're glad to be playing second fiddle to the superb Huntly Nordic Ski Club who have championed this race venue and nurtured the area over many often-difficult years.
^ all brands of 'nordic' roamed the mountains and forests of Scotland in the halcyon days of superb and reliable snow cover. Here at the summit of Ben MacDui (UK's 2nd highest mountain), a heavy-duy ski mountaineering course from Glenmore shares a lunch break with athletes haring 30km around the Cairngorm plateau dash, covering almost all of the major summits.
THE MIGHTY 'SYSTEM FORTNER' RIFLE - ANOTHER GAME-CHANGER
After only a few years with the small-bore system and new venues quickly springing up, globally, biathlon marksmanship took another step forward when Peter Fortner (a gunsmith, based in Ulm near Stuttgart) designed and built in early 1984 his new pinchlock bolt, which became an instant hit. The tight engineering tolerances and Peter's insistence on personal finish meant that his small quantity of Fortners couldn't yet flood the market, so other systems were adapted and copied to reflect the Fortner's straight-pull bolt which needed only minimal position shift to re-load.
The writing was on the wall: in 1988, the final Olympic appearance of the original, and ultimately the most simple, reliable and accurate Anschutz 1827 bolt-action rifle was by Carl Davies (GBR, aged only 23) who came an amazing 28th place in the 20km at his first Olympics, scoring 0-2-0-1 which was at that time routinely amongst the top scores at all international competitions.
The mighty Soviet Union team - in fact, the last ever 'USSR' team - all used the Russian Izsmash/Vostock in the 1990 World Championships to clean sweep all the medals in the 20km (GBR's Mike Dixon being the only other athlete that day to shoot 0-0-0-0, with a repeat of his 13th place in the 1988 Olympics). A few Germans continued with the German Krico 'Winchester action'; and the Izsmash and others are still in use at sub-international and club meetings worldwide. However, although it's expensive and technically quite complex, Peter Fortner's Anschutz 1827F System Fortner has become the dominant choice amongst international athletes: it's quick and accurate, and the elapsed time for each range bout (on-the-mat to off-the-mat) has halved from around a minute in the early days of small-bore, to around 30 seconds now.
< Peter Fortner, the master craftsman gunmaker who designed and developed the world's best international rifle that continues to bear his name, busy servicing the rifle of Carl Carrier GBR, one of 3 Royal Air Force athletes to race at senior international level in either biathlon or cross-country (Fay Potton Biathlon, Jean Watson Cross-Country (1988 Olympian)).
THE PATHFINDERS WHO ESTABLISHED THE CURRENT UK SCENE
In the 60s and 70s, it had been common for the GBR biathletes to race both biathlon and cross-country at international events including the Olympics: all competitive skiing was classical; and there were neither skating events nor skating equipment nor formalised skating techniques. Also, as a general rule, much of the ski-technique training had to be carried out overseas on snow, because early rollerskis were coarse, clumsy, scary and often dangerous! Dreghorn Ranges, complete with a narrow classic rollerski track, near Redford Barracks in Edinburgh was the sole UK resource in the late 1970s and into the early 1980s. But change was afoot, and whole new opportunity arose for UK biathletes: firstly with the change to small-bore in 1978; then formal incorporation of skating for biathlon and skating events for cross-country in 1986; and then enhanced availability and development of realistic rollerskis. At long last, home-based training in the UK was closer to what was needed to take on the Soviets, Europeans and Scandinavians.
A few UK-military biathletes showed that GBR could compete in the highest echelons of 'modern winter biathlon' from an early age, Carl Davies and notably Mike Dixon whose first Olympic biathlon appearance (of 5!) in 1988 at Calgary was an amazing 13th place in the 20km.......and biathlon was firmly established with UK fans, and acknowledged as 'the soldier's natural Olympic stage'. Mike Dixon repeated this success often - 12th in the 1990 World Championships; 12th in the 1991 (Pre-1992-Olympic) World Cup; and 12th in the 1992 Olympics at Les Saisies, France, where he scored the FIRST Olympic Individual 0-0-0-0 (he was out early, as Bib 19) with the THIRD perfect score that day, Evgeny Redkine, taking the Gold medal.
Only a few months after his final Olympics in 2002, the 'wise old man' mentors 'the new kid on the block'......Dixie passing on the baton to Jacko, at East Grange Biathlon Centre
From the mid-1980s, it was military (now-BBC) personnel who operated all the UK-based antecedent clubs, teams and organisations that evolved into today’s BBC, including the RAF Biathlon Team at Lyneham, the GBR Junior Biathlon Team at Colerne, the East Grange Biathlon Centre, the GBR National Development Squad, the RAF Biathlon Union, the Army Biathlon Development Team and the Royal Marines Biathlon Team, with consultants McGill Sport (Scotland) providing biathlon-specialist technical and design advice to virtually all of these groups. With increasing legislation, and sometimes ill-founded public opinion, it was becoming increasingly important in the 1990s to show that biathlon did not need to hide away in back nooks of farmers’ fields, and that we were capable of raising the bar to a more formal existence. The GBR Team Manager 1990-94, Royal Engineer officer Eddy Lowe (now one of our Honorary Vice-Presidents), was beavering hard to formalise the original 'home of biathlon' at Glenmore Lodge, with plans and funding applications for a new range and rollerski track, completed in 1994.
A catalyst was forming as the British Biathlon Union rose from the embers of the British Ski and Snowboard Federation (BSSF) in 1996, and McGill and RAFBU pushed ahead with a formal test and evaluation range at RAF Kinloss 1999-2002 to provide crucial data and evidence to the army and civilian licensing authorities the acceptance of new range designs.......... just in time, because as the net closed in after the Les Contamines accident in 2001 which brought criticism and the threat of closing down all biathlon activity in the UK, we opened East Grange Biathlon Centre (GB) in late 2002. EGBC was an 8-lane all-weather floodlit rollerski biathlon range, and the GBR Senior Team - under coach Iain Woods, 1992 and 1994 Olympian - arrived to give it a good try out! We later added a 4-lane hill range in 2003, partly in response to an idea from Lee Jackson who trained with us full-time in 2003 and 2004, went on to become a 2010 and 2014 Olympian, and is now one of our Training Officers.
<- Team mates for many years, and racing together at the 1992 Les Saisies and 1994 Lillehammer Olympics, Iain Woods and Mike Dixon, coaching the GBR Senior Squad in 2002.
THE BRITISH BIATHLON ACADEMY
After the Club organised scheduled courses in the summers of 2003 and 2004 at East Grange for the new BBU GBR National Development Squad, it was clear to everyone that for GBR to generate a stream of sufficient talent to fill the ranks of the GBR Senior Team, we had to provide more extensive opportunity for talented athletes to level the playing field. We therefore initiated an accelerated full-time programme, and the famous first-ever British Biathlon Academy ‘Class of 2005’ set the bar very high indeed: all 5 athletes Paul Whibley, Ginge Allinson, Kevin Kane, Shane Clash and Rob Chudley achieved GBR senior selection the following winter, and as early as February 2007, the first – Kev Kane – qualified and competed at the IBU World Championships.
That successful programme grew on and up, at times delivering as many as 6 male and female athletes per year to the first rungs of international competition as GBR representatives. Indeed, the British Biathlon Academy set the standard for the modern programme of athlete mentoring: 'student athletes' were trained in all aspects of their personal development alongside their primary sport with a full programme of academics, adventure training, coaching qualifications, NVQ Level 2 awards in sports leadership, and of course ongoing elite training programmes with as many as 3 sessions per day, mostly outside, in all weathers, all terrain, night and day, in preparation for the winter race season. This 'Academy' model has been extensively developed, and is now the norm in most elite athlete programmes: "before crafting excellence, you must first sharpen your tools".
The first of the new generation of excellence: Kevin Kane (Royal Artillery), fast-tracked full-time at EGBC in 2005, and then rapidly achieved qualification over the next 16 months for the 2007 World Championships. Before retiring from International competition in 2014 and returning to his Regimental Team, Kevin competed in 65 World Cup races and 6 World Championships.
After many successful years of the British Biathlon Academy at EGBC, the various threads were pulled together in 2010 to be amalgamated into British Biathlon Rifle Club (BBRC) (which is the legal entity specifically for firearms) running under the wider British Biathlon Club (BBC). BBC now has members all over the UK (and also some who are based in Europe and Scandinavia), and we moved into our own new day-and-night 8-lane range venue at Findhorn (Kinloss) in 2012. That same year, the Royal Marines Biathlon Team re-formed after a lull of 9 years, first launching at BBC Findhorn and later partnering with BBC to devise another BBC range venue at RM Condor in Arbroath: design and work are ongoing to add this second 6-lane biathlon range to our list of venues, and it now has the first new sections of rollerski track onto the firing point. (In the near future, we plan that this will become a 10-lane floodlit venue).
ELITE PERFORMANCE AND 'BIATHLON FOR ALL'
The BBC is all-inclusive and dedicated to biathletes of all ages and all abilities, from novice to Olympian, and its members include masters, juniors, seniors, novices and elites – including our 2014 and 2018 Olympian Amanda Lightfoot who took her first ever steps in biathlon with us in November 2006 at East Grange Biathlon Centre before competing in Ruhpolding and being selected to join the GBR National Development Squad at EGBC in 2007.
<-- In modern times, Amanda (back row, 3rd left, at her first GBR Dev Squad camp in 2007) is GBR’s fastest ever novice-to-Olympian: she graduated to GBR Senior Squad in the 2008/9 season and qualified for the 2014 Sochi Olympics only 5 competitive seasons later.
Amanda qualified again for 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, and is therefore GBR's first ever female double Olympian in Biathlon (her fellow RLC athlete Emma Fowler being the first to qualify for GBR in 2006 Turin). V
2007 GBR National Development Squad at EGBC – Amanda Lightfoot (back row, 3rd from left) in her first year; Pete Beyer (back row, 3rd from right); Ben Woolley (front row, 2nd left) – all GBR World Cup and IBU Cup athletes - just a small sample of the superb biathletes nurtured and pushed up to GBR status by the elite ‘British Biathlon Academy’ programme.
'Elite Performance': Amanda is one of many BBC alumni who have raced on the senior international stage for Great Britain, and, just as importantly, are still giving back to biathlon and our future biathletes: Paul Whibley (ABDS and RE Coach), Simon (Ginge) Allanson (British Para-Snowsport Team), Lee Jackson (AABDS/GBR Coach), Carl Carrier (GBR Nordic Development), Ben Woolley (AABDS Coach), Kev Kane (GBR Junior Coach). Many others have reached the pinnacle of GBR Senior Athlete: Paul Birmingham, Rob Chudley, Fay Potton, Lee Cunningham, Pete Beyer, Dan Fuller, Nerys Jones, Carl Gibson, Sean Bowen, John Dunnett, Alex Gleave, Mark Schroeder, Vinnie Fountain, Shane Clash (ABDS Coach 2013/14) and others were all trained at EGBC: more recently Adam Williams, Mark Patterson, Emma Drew, Adam Williams, Sam Grist and Gareth Griffin were all trained at BBC Findhorn.
If you think you'd like to follow in their paths, take the first step and get in touch with us.
'Biathlon For All': GBR's youngest and oldest international representatives at BBC's Biathlon Boot Camp in September 2017 at RM Condor, Arbroath.
< Holly Rees-Lay (Senior), Nicola Walker, Graham Briars (Masters) and BBC Deputy Training Officer Billy Rodgers.
WHERE WE ARE NOW
After many successful years of the British Biathlon Academy at EGBC, the various threads were pulled together in 2010 to be amalgamated into British Biathlon Club (BBC) (the legal entity specifically for firearms management being known as British Biathlon Rifle Club (BBRC). BBC now has members all over the UK (and also some who are based in Europe and Scandinavia), and we moved into our own new day-and-night 8-lane range venue at Findhorn (Kinloss) in 2012, That same year, the Royal Marines Biathlon Team re-formed after a lull of 9 years, first launching at BBC Findhorn and later partnering with BBC to devise another BBC range venue at RM Condor in Arbroath: design and work are ongoing to add this second 6-lane biathlon range to our list of venues, and with the first new sections of rollerski track onto the firing point. The energy and enthusiasm for this unique project was - and still is - Royal Marine Billy Rodgers, now one of our Training Officers.
Whilst the British Biathlon Union's “primary purpose is to get our athletes to the Olympic Winter Games” (BBU Website), BBC embraces also the wider picture - “biathlon for all”: only by ensuring a strong developmental base will we ensure sufficient talent comes to the fore for the BBU to project internationally. As an NGB’s task is not to micro-manage and provide every function that a healthy base requires in any sport – those tasks fall to participating enthusiasts and clubs around the country. We’re a successful club, but we don’t want to be the only or the biggest club around – quite the opposite, in fact: if your club needs help, contact us.
^ The early days at RM Condor (with range complete with duck pond), Royal Marines Biathlon Team Spring Camp 2017.
BBC nurtures elite talent as well as grass roots biathlon in many ‘biathlon’ stress-shooting formats, by providing and developing biathlon capability and opportunities including ranges, range management, training and coaching. Our mission is to ensure that there will always be a stream of biathletes knocking at the BBU’s door, ready for onward and upward competition, as well as a base of competitors, supporters, staff and alumni who are part of the biathlon family.
BBC currently manages biathlon ranges, training courses and range projects in Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and is in partnership with Snowsports Association of Ireland (SAI) to establish an All-Ireland development programme, now that the Republic of Ireland is a full member of the IBU and has a record of athletes competing internationally.
RM Condor, later in 2017, with rollerski access onto the firing point.->
Our ranges are equipped with International-standard Kurvinen biathlon target machines, and we have a fleet of Anschutz 1827 and 1827F (Fortner) rifles, as well as a unique Krico 'Winchester' (only a few of which were made, possibly less than 50). These assets are sometimes deployed and/or loaned out to other venues, and we have in-house capability to install and run temporary ranges alongside rollerski-capable track, and we often deploy training staff to other UK clubs and overseas venues to plan organise their training day(s) and camps.
JOIN THE BIATHLON FAMILY
All of this - ALL OF THIS - started with the exact same theme throughout the history of biathlon in the UK - just one enthusiast putting just one peg in the ground, and persuading others to join the family. If you want to do the same and make biathlon happen for you, your club or your military team, there is no idea or project too big or too small for BBC to help with – make that call, and we’ll see what we can do.