Snipers are highly trained marksman who maintains close visual contact with the enemy and engages targets from concealed positions without being detected.
Originating from the verb to snipe, the word was used to describe a hunter skilled enough to kill the elusive snipe by soldiers in British India in the 1770’s.
The term sniper was first attested in 1824 in the sense of the word sharpshooter and in today’s United States (US) military, there are fewer than 300 snipers in the US Marine Corps, less than 1,000 in the US Army, and less than 50 in the US Navy.
It is no surprise that with small US Military sniper community there is a certain level of competition between services on who fields the best snipers.
The US Marine Corps was one of the first to push the science of modern American long-range sniping during the Vietnam War where Carlos Hathcock made a record shot at 2,090 m (2,286 yds) in 1967 (a record that held for over 35 years).
Hathcock later went on to establish a school for training United States Marine Corps (USMC) snipers known as the USMC Scout Sniper School located in Quantico, Virginia.
This lead some to point to US Marine Corps snipers as being considered the best snipers in the world due to access to some of the most sophisticated training available.
However, the US Army established its own sniper school at the Infantry Center at Fort Benning, Georgia, in the 1980’s, and claim to produce their own would renowned top-notch snipers that can trace their lineage back to the riflemen of the Revolutionary War.
Best Shooters in the World
Leave to the great men and women of the US Military to aggressively debate who is the best of the best.
Adding fuel to this healthy top-sniper grudge match, US Navy SEALs claim they hold the mantle of the The Best in the World
What’s their proof?
According to Brandon Webb, a former US Navy SEAL and former Naval Special Warfare Sniper Course Manager, he sees the US Navy SEAL Sniper as the quintessential 21st Century Sniper due to his capability to be a “mature, intelligent shooter who leverages technology to his deadly advantage”.
This, Webb claims, is most evident in the Somali Pirate incident in the Red Sea in 2009.
Unlike the US Marines or US Army sniper, Webb sights that the US Navy SEAL snipers are the only men alive who can fly across the Atlantic, parachute with full gear into darkness at 12,000 feet, rendezvous with a US Navy ship under cover of darkness, and then on a moonless night, shoot from large ship to a small moving lifeboat, hitting all three targets with only three shots.
That sounds like an excellent argument for a team of shooters who can hit their target even in the most extreme conditions.
Regardless who you think is the Best of the Best Snipers, the skills of these US service members are undeniably devastating when used on the battlefield.
Unfortunately, besides for private security, range instruction, or law enforcement occupations, a Soldier, Sailor, or Marine sniper does not have many places to use his skills once back at home.
But what if the American men (and women) that have these special battlefield skills were repurposed in another way?
What if US Veteran snipers could be recruited and taught to take on the ultimate shooting competition in the world?
What if the best shooters in the world were to become Olympic Biathletes?
The Last Gold Medal of Winter
The Olympic Biathlon is an event so exclusive and competitive that the United States has never placed even near the top-five since the sport was established by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1960.
Surprising, there are actually six Olympic sports the United States has never medaled in.
The Star-Spangled Banner has never been hoisted to celebrate overall glory or even a top-three finish in badminton, table tennis, handball, rhythmic gymnastics, trampoline, and — most importantly — biathlon.
Nordic combined was on that list until the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, where Team USA had stunning success earning four medals.
Billy Demong won gold, with Johnny Spillane taking two silvers and the team also picking up silver in the 4×5-kilometer relay.
The skiing sport that requires precision shooting.
A skiing sport with shooting?
Yes, you read that right: shooting!
Biathlon has so vexed American athletes for over 50 years that the best finish ever was when Jeremy Teela finished 9th in 10 km sprint race.
Before 2017, US Biathlon men had won only two individual world championship biathlon medals — silvers in 1987 and 2013.
However, at the World Championships in Sochi, Lowell Bailey from Lake Placid, New York, became the first American to win a gold medal in the 20-kilometer individual race.
Furthermore, no American US Biathlon women had ever won an individual medal at the world championships before 2017.
Then came Susan Dunklee from Barton, Vermont, who took the first American silver medal in the 12.5K mass start.
Ironically, in 2012, Tim Burke from Paul Smiths, New York, placed 4th during the IBU World Cup in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia. This is after Burke opened the 2010 Winter Olympics by finishing 47th in the 10km Sprint race and finishing 46th in the Pursuit.
One might think that Burke is an up-and-coming biathlete.
He claimed that after the 10km Sprint race during the 2010 Winter Olympics was, “the most unfair competition” he had ever raced in, after he blamed his poor performance due to a storm of wet snow that hit the venue after the race had started, but before his start time.
Wet snow that hits a venue in the middle of the race does impact the outcome.
A dry course is faster than a wet course, making the skiing times much faster for those who benefit from a drier course.
Snow may have had an impact on his placement.
But it is difficult to blame snow entirely when the young athlete struggled with his primary discipline: his shooting!
Burke shot so badly that he had to ski five penalty loops in the same race. Snow or no snow, you have to shoot well in biathlon.
Unfortunately, with all his efforts in both World Championships, World Cup, and past Olympics, Burke placed 7th in the sprint, 17th in pursuit, 41st in individual, 15th in the mixed relay, and 6th in the relay at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.
Although Burke had the sixth-best net time in the 2018 Olympics Biathlon pursuit, he again pointed out how the changing weather conditions gave some of his competitors an edge.
Nevermind his two penalties, one in prone and one in standing, that caused him to take two penalty laps.
A Need for Precision
Any sport that includes shooting should be a sport that American’s dominate.
If you pay close attention to any Biathlon World Ranked Event — including the Olympics — you will quickly understand how important precision shooting is to this sport.
It is the same kind of precision that is considered a critical skill for all US Special Forces.
Only in biathlon, missing just one target is the difference between 1st and 18th place.
Unfortunately for America’s current cadre of biathletes, who have great speed and endurance, they do not shoot well enough to win a biathlon.
You cannot keep a lead, or gain on your competitors if you spend all your time doing penalty laps due to missed shots.
It just so happens that the same skills needed to get an American biathlete onto an Olympic podium, are the exact same skills that make a US Navy SEAL sniper so deadly.
So are American biathlete’s just bad shots when compared to their competition from countries like France, Sweden, and Germany?
With all the talent in shooting coming home from their tours in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere, it does not seem far-fetched that a Soldier, Sailor, or Marine sniper could be the one to win America’s FIRST Olympic Gold Medal in Biathlon in 2022 or 2026 Winter Olympics.
Physically fit and trained to adapt to their conditions — to include alpine travel — it may only be a matter of time before a coach discovers that a well trained US Veteran is built for biathlon.
Endurance can be obtained and cross-country skiing can be taught.
But shooting with precision is a skill that few possess.
The key to the gold might be starting with the important skill first — shooting — and then building a new biathlete around it.
US Veterans Love Being First
First in, first to fight, first to win.
These are all part of the US Veteran experience.
Can it translate into a peacetime skill like biathlon?
I think it can.
In fact, I believe that the coach that turns a US Veteran marksman into a biathlete will be the first to claim the long deserved American victory in the sport of biathlon.
Is it too far-fetched to think that a US Veteran could win gold in the Olympic Biathlon?
To me, I can’t think of a better way for the United States to celebrate the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China.
And to all my fellow Vets who are now home or rotating in: this could be you!
You could be the first American to make the host country hoist the Stars and Stripes over the top of a biathlon podium.
You could be the one to take what you learned in combat and use it to force them to play Francis Scott Key’s epic Star Spangled Banner for all other countries to envy.
But if you want it to be you, then it’s time to start training.
If you need someplace to start, check out my article on the No-Snow Biathlon for how to train when there is no snow.
You now have 36-months to prepare yourself to win America’s first gold medal in biathlon.
Get to it!