Winter Olympics: Biathlon
A demanding combination of exertion and precision
by Gerry Brown and Christine Frantz
Did You Know?
The first known biathlon competition took place between two Norwegian guard companies in 1767.
A demanding combination of exertion and precision, the biathlon combines cross-country skiing and riflery. It was originally devised as a means for hunting. Norway, which has recently dominated the sport at the Olympic level, used the sport as a military tactic for defending the nation's borders.
At the Vancouver Winter Games, the biathlon will be contested in five events each for men and women.
The men compete in the following:
- 10 km sprint
- 12.5 km pursuit
- 20 km individual
- 4x7.5 km relay
- 15 km mass start
The women compete in the following:
- 7.5k m sprint
- 10 km pursuit
- 15 km individual
- 4x6 km relay
- 12.5 km mass start
The rifles that are used are .22 caliber, and each weighs a minimum of 7.7 lb (3.5 kg).
In each discipline there are shooting stops placed along the course: two stops for the sprint and relay; four stops for the pursuit, mass start, and individual events. Half of the shooting stops are standing and half are prone.
At each stop, competitors have five bullets and five targets (50 m away) to hit. Each miss in the sprint, pursuit, mass start, and relay events results in a 150-m penalty loop. Each miss in the individual event adds one minute to the athlete's final time.
In the relay, each athlete is allowed three extra bullets. The extra bullets must be hand-loaded one at a time, and they must be used until all five targets have been hit or all the bullets have been shot.
The United States has yet to medal in Olympic biathlon, but that may change in 2010. American Tim Burke took second place at the World Cup in Sweden in 2009, and teammate Jeremy Teela placed third in the Whistler World Cup.
Norwegian Emil Hegle and Cristoph Sumann of Austria flanked Tim Burke on the World Cup podium, and are expected to be among the top racers in Vancouver. The top three women's world cup winners are also expected to do well: Helena Jonsson and Anna Carin Olafsson-Zidek of Sweden, and Darya Domracheva of Belarus.