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Olympic athletes compete in RAYGUN SHOOTING for the first time

Pentathletes swap bullets for laser pistols

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Thus far, we here at the Register have struggled to hang much of a tech angle on the ongoing London Olympics. As there are also few obvious Paris Hilton angles to be found on the 2012 spectacle-fest, and few Vultures have any deep expertise in sports or physical exercise, we have thus far confined ourselves to a few pieces on stadium construction, IT kit in use etc.

Today, however, we have come across an unambiguously Reg-worthy development: The 2012 Olympics are the first at which athletes will compete not only with relatively dull bows and arrows, javelins, old school shooting-irons hurling lead projectiles and other antique ranged weaponry, but also with actual, honest to goodness LASER PISTOLS.

Look, you can read it right here in the Pentathlon 'equipment' section of the Team GB website.

Modern pentathletes, as any fule kno, must be top-level competitors in five events: horse riding*, swimming, fencing, running and pistol shooting. These were chosen with the idea that they were the primary physical skills that a military officer (perhaps tasked with delivering urgent despatches across the battlefield) should possess, though even at the turn of the 20th century the fencing was arguably long obsolete and the horse-riding well on its way to becoming so.

However anachronistic some of the events may be, the modern-pentathlon shooting - which is done combined with the running event - is now bang (pew pew) up to date. Until last year it was normal to use relatively ordinary pistols shooting lead pellets (usually air pistols, especially in Britain, to deal with very restrictive UK laws on the possession of normal handguns firing ordinary cartridges). But since 2011 pentathletes use lasers instead.

Sadly for any readers imagining that the day of the deadly handheld raygun capable of burning a hole through a target or adversary is finally here, these laser "pistols" are even less dangerous than the previous airguns were. They are more in the nature of an arcade or game-console simulation gun than an actual weapon.

The advantage of the laser over an air-pistol is that it is even less of a regulatory or safety problem, which makes it easier to arrange the comparatively large running-and-shooting combination racetrack/ranges required for pentathletes as opposed to normal Olympic pistol shooters (who only need a normal shooting range, and still use normal air and cartridge weapons). There is also a minor environmental plus in that there's no need to clear up lead pellets afterwards to prevent them contaminating groundwater etc.

This last might not seem like a big deal, and it isn't that much of one in an Olympic or firing-range context, but in fact the world's leading armed forces are these days working to reduce the lead content of their small-arms ammo, as it's fairly difficult to prevent a lot of bullets getting lost into the ground during various forms of more mobile/practical live-fire training - let alone combat. The USA has also had a federal ban on lead ammo for waterfowl hunting for a long time.

Be all that as it may, the 2012 Olympics will be noteworthy at least for this - they are the first at which some of the human race's best will battle for supremacy using laser "weapons", which tickles our fancy across several busy Register desks - namely the raygun desk, the gaming desk and the scientifiction desk. ®

*On an unfamiliar horse, over jumps.

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