Winter Olympic Games: What is a Biathlon?

An athlete participating in a Biathlon event.
An athlete participating in a Biathlon event.

Biathlon is a winter sport that involves cross-country skiing and rifle shooting. The participants, known as biathletes, ski long distances with occasional stop-overs to shoot at a target using their rifle. In the case where a biathlete misses the target, they ski around a 150-meter penalty loop. The biathletes can compete individually or as a relay team. The biathlon relay team consists of four athletes, each skiing 7.5 km for the males’ category and 6 km for the female category. All the biathletes usually start racing at the same time from the starting lane, with the winner being the first person to cross the finishing line.

History and Origin of Biathlon

Biathlon traces its origin from Norway. The Norwegians practiced the sport formerly as part of military training. The biathlon competitions in the Norwegian military training was categorized into four; aiming and shooting at a target mark while skiing at a high speed, racing down a hill covered with big trees, racing on flat land while carrying a rifle and other military equipment, and racing down a steep barely-covered hill. Trysil Rifle and Ski Club were established to enhance internal security.

Biathletes first competed in the Winter Olympic Games in 1924. More demonstrations of biathlon continued in the years of 1928, 1936, and 1948. At this time it was not recognized as a Winter Olympic Game because some of the participant countries could not agree with some of the rules set to govern the sport. In 1958, the first ever International Biathlon championship took place in Austria. In 1960, biathlon was finally recognized as a Winter Olympic sport. Women were not allowed to participate in the game until 1992.

Biathlon Events

Biathlon consists of five field events: individual, sprint, pursuit, relay, and mass completion. Individual event is the oldest of the five. In this biathlon event males ski for 20 km while women ski for 15km. The distance is divided into five laps each with four shooting targets. If the target is missed, a one-minute penalty is given to the biathlete. Sprint event is about 10km for men and 7.5km for women. The race is divided into three laps. The biathlete is supposed to shoot the first target in standing posture then the second target in prone posture. If the target is not hit, the biathlete skis a 150m loop as a penalty.

Only those who succeed in the sprint event qualify to take part in pursuit event. The first 60 people in the sprint event automatically qualify for the pursuit. The event is divided into 5 laps, with four shooting stages. A 150m penalty is given if the target is missed. A relay team consists of four biathletes. Each male team member skis for 7.5 km with two shooting opportunities while the female ski for 6 km with two shooting opportunities each and passes the baton to next racer. In order to participate in a mass competition, a biathlete must have finished in the top thirty positions from the other four events. In a mass competition, men ski for 15km while women ski for 12.6 km, in 5 laps and have four shooting bouts.


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