The Winter Olympics have a premiere today.
For the first time, women will compete for medals in the biathlon, a sport that combines the endurance of cross country skiing with marksmanship from a shooting range.
The competition begins with the 7.4-kilometer event at Les Saisies, and it will be a tough course. In addition to the high altitude of 5,248 meters, the course features an uphill section just before the shooting range.
"There is little time for recovery," said U.S. biathlete Nancy Bell of Stowe, Vt.
Women have been competing in world biathlon championships for eight years, but the decision wasn't made to add the event to the Games until the spring of 1988.
"The knowledge that women's biathlon is coming to the Games kept me going," said Bell, who is 30.
"Getting the exposure will help the sport," said another U.S. biathlete, Joan Guetschow of Minnetonka, Minn. "Lots of countries were reluctant to start programs until it was added to the Olympics."
Women started coming into the sport when the big-bore rifle was replaced by the lighter .22-caliber rifle.
"It was geared to men steeped in military tradition, and many countries still don't have women in the military," said Bell, who serves in the National Guard in Vermont.
Top U.S. male biathlete Josh Thompson said having the women athletes around is fun.
"We are used to seeing them around for years," he said. "We compete in the World Cup together. It's no big deal to us. They are finally coming along. The Olympics were dragging their feet about letting in women."
Both U.S. women said their goal was to finish among the top 15.
The top medal contenders are the powerful German trio of Uschi Disl, Antje Misersky and Petra Schaaf, a three-time world champion, and several athletes from the Unified Team, or what was once the Soviet Union.
In other events yesterday:
* NORDIC SKIING: World Cup leader Paul Accola of Switzerland was positioned for a gold-medal run in today's slalom portion of the men's skiing combined competition. Accola was fifth in yesterday's downhill combined, .79 seconds behind leader Jan Einar Thorsen, but the Norwegian is not a good slalom skier and predicted he won't win.
* LUGE: American Duncan Kennedy missed out on a medal, but his 10th-place finish was the best ever for a male U.S. luger.
* HOCKEY: Top NHL draft pick Eric Lindros had two goals and an assist in Canada's 6-1 win over Switzerland. Canada improved to 2-0 and stayed in a three-way tie in its group with the Unified Team, which blasted Norway 8-1, and Czechoslovakia, a 6-4 winner over the stubborn French.
* CROSS COUNTRY: Norway, the birthplace of cross country skiing, won its first medals ever in the men's 30-kilometer. Norwegians finished 1-2-3.
* ET CETERA: American downhiller Megan Gerety sprained and bruised her knee in a collision during a practice run. Canadian ice dancer Jacqueline Petr cut her calf in practice and received 22 stitches. Both are uncertain for competition.