Winter Olympics: Biathlon

Photo Credit: iaRada

WHAT IS THE BIATHLON?

The biathlon is a winter sport that combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting.

HISTORY:

According to Encyclopædia Britannica, the biathlon “is rooted in the skiing traditions of Scandinavia, where early inhabitants revered the Norse god Ullr as both the ski god and the hunting god”. In modern times, the activity that developed into this sport was an exercise for Norwegian people that was an alternative training for the military. Norwegian skiing regiments organized military skiing contests in the 18th century, divided in four classes: shooting at mark while skiing at top speed, downhill race among trees, downhill race on big hills without falling, and a long race on flat ground while carrying rifle and military pack. In modern terminology these military contests included downhill, slalom, biathlon, and cross-country skiing. One of the world’s first known ski clubs, the Trysil Rifle and Ski Club, was formed in Norway in 1861 to promote national defense at the local level. 20th century variants include Forsvarsrennet (the military contest) – a 17 km cross-country race with shooting, and the military cross-country race at 30 km including marksmanship. The modern biathlon is a civilian variant of the old military combined exercise. In Norway, the biathlon was until 1984 a branch of Det frivillige Skyttervesen, an organization set up by the government to promote civilian marksmanship in support of national defense. In Norwegian, the biathlon is called skiskyting (literally ski shooting). In Norway there are still separate contests in skifeltskyting, a cross-country race at 12 km with large-caliber rifle shooting at various targets with unknown range.

Called military patrol, the combination of skiing and shooting was contested at the Winter Olympic Games in 1924, and then demonstrated in 1928, 1936, and 1948, but did not regain Olympic recognition then because the small number of competing countries disagreed on the rules. During the mid-1950s, however, the biathlon was introduced into the Soviet and Swedish winter sport circuits and was widely enjoyed by the public. This newfound popularity aided the effort of having the biathlon gain entry into the Winter Olympics.

The first Biathlon World Championship was held in 1958 in Austria, and in 1960 the sport was finally included in the Olympic Games. At Albertville in 1992, women were first allowed in the Olympic biathlon.

The competitions from 1958 to 1965 used high-power centerfire cartridges, such as the .30-06 Springfield and the 7.62×51mm NATO, before the .22 Long Rifle rimfire cartridge was standardized in 1978. The ammunition was carried in a belt worn around the competitor’s waist. The sole event was the men’s 20 kilometres (12 mi) individual, encompassing four separate ranges and firing distances of 100 metres (330 ft), 150 metres (490 ft), 200 metres (660 ft), and 250 metres (820 ft). The target distance was reduced to 150 metres (490 ft) with the addition of the relay in 1966. The shooting range was further reduced to 50 metres (160 ft) in 1978 with the mechanical targets making their debut at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid.

FORMATS:

Individual

The 20 kilometres (12 mi) individual race (15 kilometres (9.3 mi) for women) is the oldest biathlon event; the distance is skied over five laps. The biathlete shoots four times at any shooting lane,[6] in the order of prone, standing, prone, standing, totaling 20 targets. For each missed target a fixed penalty time, usually one minute, is added to the skiing time of the biathlete. Competitors’ starts are staggered, normally by 30 seconds.

Sprint

The sprint is 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) for men and 7.5 kilometres (4.7 mi) for women; the distance is skied over three laps. The biathlete shoots twice at any shooting lane, once prone and once standing, for a total of 10 shots. For each miss, a penalty loop of 150 metres (490 ft) must be skied before the race can be continued. As in the individual competition, the biathletes start in intervals.

Pursuit

In a pursuit, biathletes’ starts are separated by their time differences from a previous race,[7] most commonly a sprint. The contestant crossing the finish line first is the winner. The distance is 12.5 kilometres (7.8 mi) for men and 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) for women, skied over five laps; there are four shooting bouts (two prone, two standing, in that order), and each miss means a penalty loop of 150 metres (490 ft). To prevent awkward and/or dangerous crowding of the skiing loops, and overcapacity at the shooting range, World Cup Pursuits are held with only the 60 top ranking biathletes after the preceding race. The biathletes shoot on a first-come, first-served basis at the lane corresponding to the position they arrived for all shooting bouts.

Mass start

In the mass start, all biathletes start at the same time and the first across the finish line wins. In this 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) for men or 12.5 kilometres (7.8 mi) for women competition, the distance is skied over five laps; there are four bouts of shooting (two prone, two standing, in that order) with the first shooting bout being at the lane corresponding to the competitor’s bib number (Bib #10 shoots at lane #10 regardless of position in race), with the rest of the shooting bouts being on a first-come, first-served basis (If a competitor arrives at the lane in fifth place, they shoot at lane 5). As in sprint and pursuit, competitors must ski one 150 metres (490 ft) penalty loop for each miss. Here again, to avoid unwanted congestion, World Cup Mass starts are held with only the 30 top ranking athletes on the start line (half that of the Pursuit as here all contestants start simultaneously).

Relay

The relay teams consist of four biathletes, who each ski 7.5 kilometres (4.7 mi) (men) or 6 kilometres (3.7 mi) (women), each leg skied over three laps, with two shooting rounds; one prone, one standing. For every round of five targets there are eight bullets available, though the last three can only be single-loaded manually one at a time from spare round holders or bullets deposited by the competitor into trays or onto the mat at the firing line. If after eight bullets there are still misses, one 150 m (490 ft) penalty loop must be taken for each missed target remaining. The first-leg participants start all at the same time, and as in cross-country skiing relays, every athlete of a team must touch the team’s next-leg participant to perform a valid changeover. On the first shooting stage of the first leg, the participant must shoot in the lane corresponding to their bib number (Bib #10 shoots at lane #10 regardless of position in race), then for the remainder of the relay, the relay team shoots on a first-come, first-served basis (arrive at the range in fifth place, shoot at lane 5).

Mixed relay

The most recent addition to the number of biathlon competition variants, the mixed relay is similar to the ordinary relay but the teams are composed of two women and two men. Legs 1 and 2 are done by the women, legs 3 and 4 by the men. The women’s legs are 6 kilometres (3.7 mi) and men’s legs are 7.5 kilometres (4.7 mi) as in ordinary relay competitions.
In 2014, single mixed relay was introduced by the IBU. Each team has a man and a woman, and each runs two 3.0 kilometres (1.9 mi) legs, except the last leg where the man completes 4.5 kilometres (2.8 mi) for a total 13.5 kilometres (8.4 mi). This event was first held at the Biathlon World Championships 2005 in Khanty-Mansiysk, and it was added to the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Team (obsolete)

A team consists of four biathletes, but unlike the relay competition, all team members start at the same time. Two athletes must shoot in the prone shooting round, the other two in the standing round. In case of a miss, the two non-shooting biathletes must ski a penalty loop of 150 m (490 ft). The skiers must enter the shooting area together, and must also finish within 15 seconds of each other; otherwise a time penalty of one minute is added to the total time. Since 2004, this race format has been obsolete at the World Cup level.

Take an inside look into the world of biathlon in this video courtesy of Cycling Live.

Information courtesy of Wikipedia.

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