B

iathlon [bahy-ath-lon]  noun 1. a contest in which cross-country skiers, carrying rifles, shoot at targets at four stops along a 12.5-mile (20 km) course. The biathlon originated at least as far back as 1861 in Scandinavia, Norway to be specific. At the time, the idea was to train for hunting and military exercises. Norway is made entirely of snow resting on a giant ice cube - OK, maybe only in the winter. Accordingly, it became sensible for soldiers to be able to ski like crazy, cranking their heartbeats up to a million or so beats per second, and then figure out how to calm down and place accurate shots. This activity evolved into competitions, making demonstration appearances in the Olympic games starting in 1924. However, due to rules disagreements, it didn’t become a regular event until 1960.

tracy and lanny barnes
Siblings should know better than to try and share a shotgun at the same 3-Gun Competition.photo courtesy of Lanny and Tracy Barnes

I met my very first Olympic Biathletes in the high desert about 30 miles outside of Bend, Oregon several years ago. While there was no snow to be found within a thousand or so miles, I did get an education on one of the Winter Olympics’ most traditional sports.

Lanny and Tracy Barnes, the “twin biathletes” (although I’m pretty sure they’re sick and tired of that label) gave me the rundown on the whole biathlon thing while we were waiting for darkness to arrive at the third Crimson Trace Midnight 3-Gun Championship. While not their first 3-Gun competition, that was a turning point for them moving from the Olympic Biathlon to the 3-Gun Pro Circuit.

2014 crimson trace midnight 3 guns championship
Lanny and Tracy plotting strategy on how to best attack a stage at the 2014 Crimson Trace Midnight 3-Gun Championship.photo by Tom McHale

Recently, I ran into Lanny Barnes at the USPSA Multigun Championships outside of Las Vegas, Nevada. We had a few minutes to catch up and she shared some of her story.

Living in Colorado, the twin sisters were exposed to guns, shooting, and hunting at an early age.

“My Dad’s biggest passion was hunting and shooting, so he had to pass on his tradition to the three of us girls. We started shooting at an early age, mostly hunting," Lanny said. "We got into competition in middle school with some small bore prone. My twin sister and I did most of the competition shooting—my older sister mostly hunted. It was a little boring for two very active girls.”

tracy barnes stand shootingTracy shown here in the toughest of the shooting stages – the standing position.
Tracy shown here in the toughest of the shooting stages – the standing position.photo courtesy of Lanny and Tracy Barnes

Unfortunately for their 3-Position shooting coach, the Barnes sisters were way too active for slow-paced precision shooting.

“So anyway, we got into small bore, and you know, you just lay there all day," she said. "It was a great sport because it helped give us a foundation, but for two active girls, it wasn’t really our thing. We met a guy involved with the biathlon team, and once he told us what it was, we fell in love with it.”

lanny barnes olympic skiing
Lanny showing her Olympic form heading uphill. Biathlon has a lot to do with major endurance training.photo courtesy of Lanny and Tracy Barnes

I asked Lanny what the natural progression is for biathletes. Are they skiers who learn how to shoot or shooters who learn how to ski?

“We downhill skied, but we didn’t know what cross country skiing was. Why ski up the hill when you can ski down it? Our situation was quite the opposite. Most people who go into biathlon are skiers, and they learn how to shoot later. So, we jumped into biathlon and obviously shooting was our strong point. We picked up quickly on the skiing.”

Yes, quickly it was. In short order, Lanny and Tracy moved to the Junior Nations and Junior World Teams. From there, it was a quick next step to Senior World Teams and World Cups. At that level, the only thing left is the Olympics.

barnes sisters night shooting
Back in 2014, lights and lasers weren’t quite as compact as they are now. The sisters jury-rigged an “improvised” solution to shoot in the dark.photo by Tom McHale

Between them, the Barnes’ have competed in three different Olympic games. Both sisters raced and shot in the 2006 Turin games. Four years later, Lanny competed in the Vancouver games while Tracy made the team as an alternate.

In 2014, fate made things interesting. At the qualifiers, Lanny fell sick and missed some of the events. Tracy made the team, but Lanny missed out by one spot. In an incredibly selfless act, Tracy gave up her Olympic team spot to sister Lanny, who competed in her third Olympic games.

All things must come to an end, and as the twins’ biathlon career was maturing, the ladies were looking for ways to elevate the shooting portion of their sport. Lanny explains how they got started in 3-Gun Competition:

“Towards the end of our biathlon careers, Tracy and I were looking for ways to take our biathlon shooting to the next level.

"After being in biathlon for 15 years, competing at the highest level, you look for different ways to challenge yourself. We cross-trained for skiing, why don’t we cross train for shooting? We picked up shotguns and pistols to see if there is anything that can transfer over and help us with our biathlon shooting.

"A lot of our sponsors, including OTIS Technologies and others who had been with us for our entire biathlon career, told us, ‘Hey, 3-Gun is an up and coming sport, you should try this.’ So, we jumped into 3-Gun and got hooked on that too. Tracy and I decided that while we were retiring from biathlon, we would jump into 3-Gun.”

lanny barnes shooting pistol targets
Shooting pistol targets (fast) from a moving bridge is not something Lanny ever encountered in her Biathlon days.photo courtesy of Lanny and Tracy Barnes

While there’s still plenty of action in 3-Gun, the competitors don’t have to ski marathons between shooting stages, so the sisters remain on the road, competing in, and winning 3-Gun matches across the country.

I had to ask Lanny what she’s shooting these days—what are her three guns?

"I shoot a JP Precision rifle, a Beretta 1301 shotgun with virtually no modifications other than an enlarged ejection port and extended magazine tube, and an STI DVC 1911 Competition Pistol with HiViz sights."

tracy barnes training rifles 3-gun competition
Tracy training for the rifle portion of 3-Gun Competition.photo courtesy of Lanny and Tracy Barnes

"Most people who go into biathlon are skiers, and they learn how to shoot later. So, we jumped into biathlon and obviously shooting was our strong point."

- —Lanny Barnes

Before Lanny headed off to get some food and rest before the last day of competition at the USPSA Multigun Nationals, I asked her how newer shooters can get involved. After all, with all the gear, movement, and complex stages, 3-Gun can be an intimidating sport.

“I think 3-Gun is the perfect sport to get into," she said. "When Tracy and I jumped into it, we didn’t know what we were doing. We were shooters and had competed at a high level, but we didn’t have all the gear and all that. We went to a local match and watched. What we’ve noticed across the board is that everybody is so nice in 3-Gun competitions.

" I recommend going to a match and looking at what other people have. They’ll often let you borrow equipment and try it out before you go out and buy a bunch of gear. Just have fun with it.”

lanny barnes 2018 multigun nationals
Lanny hitting distant steel plates at the 2018 Multigun Nationals.photo courtesy of Lanny and Tracy Barnes

Now that the dust has cleared, and the results of the match are in, Lanny finished 2nd in Ladies Category. Sister Tracy was not able to enter the Multigun Nationals this year due to family obligations.