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 Torino Winter Games the biathlon will be contested in four 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
The women compete in the following:
- 7.5k-m sprint
- 10-km pursuit
- 15-km individual
- 4x6-km relay
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 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, 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 four-person team has three extra bullets at each shooting stop. 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 not had much success in the Olympic biathlon, and that isn't expected to change in 2006.
Raphael Poiree of France, Norwegian Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, and Germany's Sven Fischer are a few of the favorites in the men's events. The top three women's world cup winners are also expected to do well: Sandrine Bailly of France, Germany's Kati Wilhelm, and Olga Pyleva of Russia; although the Chinese team is not to be dismissed.