ROOTS IN SURVIVAL
The word biathlon stems from the Greek word for two contests, and today is seen as the joining of two sports: Skiing and shooting. Biathlon has its roots in the survival skills practiced in Scandinavia’s snow-covered forests, where people hunted on skis with rifles slung over their shoulders.
STANDARDIZING THE RULES
In 1948, the Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne et Biathlon (UIPMB) was founded to standardize the rules for biathlon and pentathlon. In 1993, the biathlon branch of the UIPMB created the International Biathlon Union (IBU), which officially separated from the UIPMB in 1998.
Biathlon-type events in Scandinavia are known to have been held as early as the 18th century. The first modern biathlon probably occurred in 1912 when the Norwegian military organized a Forvarsrennet in Oslo. It initially consisted of a 17 km cross-country ski race with two-minute penalties incurred by misses in the shooting part of the competition as an annual event.
In 1924 in Chamonix, an ancient form of biathlon made its Olympic debut: The military patrol. This event was then in demonstration in 1928, 1936, and 1948. After some attempts to incorporate it into a winter pentathlon, biathlon appeared at the Olympic Games in its current form in 1960 in Squaw Valley. Women’s biathlon made its first appearance on the Olympic programme in Albertville in 1992.
Until the 1976 Games in Innsbruck, the events comprised of an individual race and a relay. At Lake Placid in 1980, a second individual event was introduced.
At Salt Lake City in 2002, a 12.5 km pursuit event was added for men and 10 km for women. From Turin in 2006, a new mass-start event was introduced for both men and women. This brings together the thirty best athletes from the World Cup.
THE DIFFERENT BIATHLON COMPETITIONS
There are ten biathlon races, each of which is timed. Sprint races are held over a distance of 7.5 km for women and 10 km for men. Competitors stop twice and must hit five targets with five bullets at each stop. For each missed target, athletes run one lap of a 150-metres penalty track.
In the pursuit, competitors start the race sequentially based on their finishing time in the sprint competition. Since 2002, women have run 10 km and men 12.5 km. Competitors stop four times and must hit all five targets with five bullets each time. For each missed target, athletes run one lap of a 150-metres penalty track.
In the individual, the women run 15 km and the men 20 km. All competitors stop four times at the shooting range and must hit all five targets with five bullets. For each missed target, one minute is added to the total time.
The relay is a team speed race with four athletes, each completing a 7.5 km section for a total of 30 km for the men and four 6 km sections for a total of 24 km for the women. It begins with a mass start with the first skiers on their respective teams. Each team member has two shooting sequences and has three extra bullets (for a total of eight) to hit five targets in each shooting phase. For each target left standing, competitors take one lap around a 150 m penalty loop.
In the mass start, which was added to the Olympic programme in 2006, all thirty competitors start simultaneously. The women begin over 12.5 km, and the men over 15 km. They stop four times at the shooting range, where they must hit five targets with five bullets. For each missed target, the athletes take one lap around a 150 m penalty loop.