What is Biathlon and why is it the Greatest Olympic Sport??

An Olympic sport that combines cross-country skiing with small calibre rifle target shooting, biathlon athletes (biathletes) must display great physical stamina and strength, but must also display a capacity for concentration and technical abilities, in two distinct sports. Depending on the competition format, a 2-kilometre, 2.5-kilometre, 3-kilometre or 4-kilometre long loop of a cross-country ski course is used multiple times. Each time through the stadium, the athlete must carry out a series of target shooting; five shots each, at the shooting range. If an athlete misses a target, he/she is assessed a penalty. Penalties are either an additional 150-metre loop of skiing for each target missed; in the individual competition, a minute is added to the competition time for each missed target. The timing clock does not stop during the shooting phase, so it is important for the skier to both ski quickly as well as prepare to shoot quickly to minimize total competition time.

All competitors are measured against the clock in the interval start events; the athlete with the fastest (lowest) time around the total length of the course is the winner. In the pursuit, mass start and relay events, the winner is the skier or team that crosses the finish line first (with the toe of the boot).

Individual Competitions

The 20-kilometre interval start individual competition for men is the oldest discipline in biathlon. Men start individually, 30 seconds apart, by skiing a 4-kilometre loop and then shooting five shots, continuing the sequence until they have shot four times, then finishing the 20 kilometre competition with one last 4-kilometre loop. A penalty of one minute for each miss is added to the competitor’s time.

Women start by skiing a 3-kilometre loop and then shooting, continuing the sequence until they have shot four times, then finishing the 15 kilometre competition with one last 3-kilometre loop. A penalty of one minute for each miss is added to the athlete’s time.

When shooting, the biathlete must alternate between shooting from the prone and standing positions; he/she shoots all five shots in each session in one or the other positions. The time used to shoot in each of the four shooting sessions is included in the overall competition time, so while aiming for accuracy, the athlete must try to keep the time in the shooting range to a minimum to do well. The fastest shooters take only 30 seconds between entering the firing lane, preparing their rifle, assuming the shooting position, firing five shots and leaving the firing lane to resume racing.

Coaches may stand along the course and encourage or coach athletes. Athletes who are overtaken by faster competitors must step aside, if needed, to allow the faster skier to pass.



In sprint competition, instead of the one-minute penalty for missed targets, the competitor must ski a 150-metre penalty loop immediately after shooting. Men ski three loops of 3.3 kilometres interspersed with two bouts of shooting. Women ski three 2.5-kilometre loops in the same format. Skiers start at 30-second intervals. The skier with the fastest time is the winner.


The pursuit is an exciting format where the start order and intervals are usually based on the results of the biathlon sprint competition (see above) held earlier in the week. The winner of the sprint starts first and the remaining competitors follow in the order and time that they finished behind the winner in the qualifying competition. The competitor must ski a 150-metre penalty loop for each missed target immediately after the shooting bout. The first competitor to cross the finish line wins. Sixty athletes are allowed to start in the pursuit.

For example, if the winning skier of the sprint competition finished in 25 minutes 5 seconds, and the second place skier finished the competition in 25 minutes 10 seconds, the second skier would start the pursuit competition 5 seconds after the first skier left the start. The first skier to cross the finish line is the winner.

In pursuit, the men ski five times around a 2.5 kilometre course for a total of 12.5 kilometres. Women ski a 2-kilometre loop five times for a total of 10 kilometres. Both men and women stop four times at the shooting range during the competition, every 2.5 or 2 kilometres, respectively. Athletes shoot the first two sessions in the prone position then the second two sessions in standing; each shooting session allows five shots to hit the five targets.

Also, any competitor who is lapped during the competition must immediately withdraw from the competition.


Relay is the only biathlon team event; it has separate competitions for men and women. Each team consists of four team members skiing 7.5 kilometres (men) or 6km (women) with two bouts of shooting each. The first starter of each team begins in a simultaneous mass start, ski 2 or 2.5 kilometres, shoot prone, ski 2 or 2.5 kilometres, shoot standing and then continue with the last 2 or 2.5 kilometres to tag the next team member, and so on. Any team member who misses a target must ski a 150-metre penalty loop for each missed target immediately after the shooting bout. The team whose last competitor physically crosses the finish line first is the winner, subject to any penalties for rule violations or other time adjustments.

The Mixed Relay debuts as an Olympic sport at Sochi in 2014. Each relay tem consists of two men and two women. The men ski 7.5 km, and the women 6 km. All the other relay rules are the same. the women ski the first and second legs, and the men the last two legs. First across the finish line is the winner.

Additionally, each competitor in a relay competition carries three spare rounds. If all five targets are not knocked down with the first five rounds, the spares must be used. The spares must be loaded individually by hand after the five rounds in the magazine are spent.

Also, any competitor who is lapped during the competition must immediately withdraw from the competition.

The start numbers represent both the teams’ start track and shooting lane number, and are colour coded as follows:

Red — first leg
Green — second leg
Yellow — third leg
Blue — fourth leg


The competition distance for each male athlete is 7.5 kilometres of skiing plus two sessions of shooting: one prone and one standing with five shots for five targets each. In this competition, however, each athlete has an additional three shots in reserve that he/she is allowed to use if a target is missed; these additional shots do need to be loaded individually for security and safety reasons. Women ski 6 kilometres each. If an athlete still misses a target, including using reserve shots, he/she is assessed a penalty loop for each missed target.

Mass Start

Mass start comprises the 30 best athletes from the overall season’s competitions; usually those who have won medals in the individual, sprint and pursuit competitions, the leader in the World Cup and the best in the total World Cup classifications (when start positions are open).

Each man covers five 3-kilometre loops for a total distance of 15 kilometres, while each woman covers five 2.5-kilometre loops for a total distance of 12.5 kilometres. After each loop, a series of target shooting is carried out, the first two sessions prone, the second two standing: each session has five targets and five shots. For each target missed, the athlete must ski a 150-metre penalty lap. This competition takes approximately 35 minutes to complete and is the simplest and easiest to follow of the biathlon competition formats since the winner is the athlete that crosses the finish line first. This discipline debuted at the Torino 2006 Winter Games.


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