CANMORE, ALBERTA -- The roots of the Winter Olympics lie about 60 miles to the west of Olympic headquarters. Here balding tops of mountains seem to collide with cloudless skies and everybody celebrates some Swede getting the bright idea, about 5,000 years ago, that sliding over snow beat walking. For sure.
A pair of skis that old are delicately preserved in the Djiugarden Museum of Sweden. Which is mostly why only nuts-and-bolts skiing takes place at the Nordic venue.
Nobody twirls his lady-friend about the ice here. Neither are pucks batted about frozen ponds. Even the hot-dogging ski aerialists are elsewhere, close to the sled riders and speed skaters.
All that is fun. And before he could have a good time, before he could think of skiing as sport, Lars had to get from one place to another on his new means of transportation.
Perhaps because the competition, such as 30- and 15-kilometer cross country ordeals, is so sober, officials decided it would take place at the loveliest -- and liveliest -- site.
A five-piece band greets the early arrivals. An international fast-food tent looms pleasantly nearby. Down a path, Pat Quail is doing card tricks; Randy Burns is a miming robot. On his hat is a small button that says: "Machines can't think, but neither can most people."
Anything to get the customers cheery before biathlon.
Tuesday's Nordic action featured the logical extension of Scandinavians bringing home the bacon. Seventy-two men twice interrupted a 10-kilometer ski run to haul a gun off their backs and take five shots at five tiny targets.
Some of us new to biathlon had not realized it can be so humbling. For instance, each time a man missed a shot he had to do a penalty lap around a 150-meter loop.
This might be an idea American coaches in non-Olympic sports could adopt to improve performance. Concentration at the plate surely would be much more intense if a hitter had to do a lap around the infield before returning to the dugout after a strikeout.
Biathlon is more hectic than imagined. At the same time within a fairly confined area, competitors are starting their race, on their bellies shooting, on their feet shooting or doing crooked-shooting penance.
"This is what biathlon's all about, folks," the announcer shouted at one point. No baseball barker was more enthusiastic.
Still, these north-country Davy Crocketts are not the most charismatic characters. Or so it seemed before the iceman from Guam cruised across the finish line, blood dripping from just under his right eye.
No, one of the more reknowned sharpshooters had not drawn a bead on Judd Bankert for cluttering the field, although he'd been forced to pass a test before being allowed into the event.
"Slipped and fell on the ice," Bankert said. "I was in a tuck and couldn't get out of it." Feeling the gash after wiping it dry, he added: "Did the same thing 10 days ago. Same side of the face, too."
Like everyone else, serious biathletes wondered what Judd Bankert was doing representing Guam, where the coldest it ever gets is about 80 degrees.
Bankert, 38, had similar thoughts seven months ago. After all, he'd not been on skis for seven years and almost certainly would need hip-replacement surgery (for an injury while rock climbing) before the turn of the decade.
It seems that Guam qualified for biathlon through a triathlon organization to which Bankert belongs. After that, he said, "I was the only one crazy enough to do this."
That was in June. He trained on roller skates in Guam, where he lived for seven years as a certified public accountant and consultant. In mid-November, the Michigan native moved his wife and 7-year-old daughter to a town not far from Seattle.
Bright fellow that he is, Bankert figured he ought to get reacquainted with skis before taking part in an Olympic skiing event. He was required to pass two tests here "to make sure I wouldn't be a hindrance to anybody."
Not long after Bankert began to tell his story, American Josh Thompson also moved out of the finish-line area. Within seconds, and a few yards apart, they formed the spectrum of Olympic sport.
One athlete, Bankert, was overjoyed at finishing 71st, or next-to-last, ahead of Puerto Rico's Elliot Archilla; another, Thompson, was angry at being 27th. The reason for such contrasting emotions was a word: expectations.
"Maybe I didn't deal with the pressure," said Thompson, regarded as a medal possibility Tuesday and in the 20-kilometer event Saturday, when he finished 25th. "All of a sudden I was on a pedestal. No one in this country has known that kind of pressure."
No American has been higher than sixth in Olympic biathlon.
"You take 10 weeks," said U.S. teammate Lyle Nelson. "You have your average weeks, your above-average weeks, your superlative weeks and your lousy weeks. For Josh, this was a lousy week."
For Judd Bankert, this week has been "a remarkable experience." He carried the Guam flag in the opening ceremony, because he was the entire delegation.
Bankert estimates his fantasy might have cost $30,000 in lost income and equipment, not to mention disrupting the lives of his wife and daughter with that move and his nonstop training.
"I have mixed emotions," he said. "I want to keep on, but I can't forever. I guess this ends the parade."