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About the Sport

Biathlon — which combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting — did not start as a sport, but as a way for northern European hunters, as early as 2000 BC, to put food on the table. Beginning in the mid-16th century, however, Scandinavian countries began using troops on skis to defend against their enemies.
The word “biathlon” comes from the Greek word for “two tests.” Today, biathlon consists of 10 separate events that involve both cross-country skiing and target shooting. The objective in biathlon is to complete the course in the least amount of time, hitting as many targets as possible to avoid time penalties.
The first world championships in biathlon were held in 1958 at Saalfelden, Austria. Biathlon became an Olympic sport (for men only) at the Squaw Valley 1960 Olympic Winter Games. Women’s biathlon joined the Olympic Games 30 years later, in 1992, at the Albertville Games, in France.


How It Works
The skiing portion of the biathlon requires fast and physically demanding cross-country free technique racing, while the rifle shooting requires accuracy and control.
When the athletes ski into the shooting range, they must put down their ski poles and take five shots at a metal target located 50 metres away. Each target has five plates, fixed in a straight row, which the athlete must hit. The hit area size changes depending on whether the athlete is shooting in a prone or standing position. When in a prone position, the hit area is the size of a golf ball (45 mm); standing, it’s the size of a large grapefruit (115 mm). A top athlete usually takes 20 to 25 seconds to aim and shoot five bullets. Missing a target plate can be costly: depending on the event, a missed shot means either one minute of added time or skiing a 150-metre penalty loop.


Individual Start
In the individual event, men race 20 kilometres and women race 15 kilometres. Competitors start one at a time, every 30 seconds, and ski a 4-kilometre (men) or 3-kilometre (women) loop five times. Between each loop, competitors stop four times at the shooting range to take five shots at a target. If an athlete misses a shot, one minute is added to his or her total time at the end of the race. The athlete with the lowest time, which consists of a combined ski time and shooting time penalty, is the winner.

Sprint
Similar to the individual start, athletes in the sprint event start every 30 seconds. During the sprint, women race 7.5 kilometres (3 laps of a 2.5-km loop) and men race 10 kilometres (3 laps of a 3.3-km loop). All competitors must stop twice at the shooting range to take five shots at a target. If an athlete misses a shot, he or she must ski a lap around a 150-metre penalty loop. The athlete with the lowest time, including penalty loops, is the winner.


Pursuit
The top 60 finishers in the sprint event qualify for the pursuit competition with everyone chasing the winner of the sprint event. In the pursuit event, competitors start at intervals based on their finishing times in the sprint competition; the sprint winner starts first while everyone else starts at intervals based on how many seconds behind the winner they were in the sprint competition. Women race 10 kilometers (5 laps of a 2-km loop) and men race 12.5 kilometres (5 laps of a 2.5-km loop). All competitors must stop four times at the shooting range to take five shots at a target. For each missed shot, an athlete must ski a penalty lap around a 150-metre loop. The first athlete to cross the finish line wins.



Relay
In the relay event, one by one, each member of a four-person team skis a leg (7.5 km for men, 6 km for women), tagging the next team member at the completion of his/her leg. Each athlete skis three legs and must stop twice at the shooting range. In this event, instead of the usual five shots, each athlete is allowed an extra three bullets. If an athlete still misses the target, the athlete must ski a 150-metre penalty lap for each missed shot.

Mass Start
In this event (women-12.5 km, men-15 km), the 30 best-ranked competitors start together and must stop four times at the shooting range to take five shots at a target. If an athlete misses a shot, the athlete must ski a lap around a 150-metre penalty loop. If a competitor is lapped during the competition he or she must withdraw immediately. The first athlete to cross the finish line is the winner.

 (www.vancuver2010.com)

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