Sport guide – Biathlon: a rare combination of shooting and skiing rooted in tradition

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Shoot to thrill

Few sports require as rare a combination of skills as biathlon. Its athletes need to be super-fit in order to compete across a demanding cross-country skiing course, but also possess enough mental calmness to fire a shotgun accurately at a range of tricky targets.

It’s a discipline rooted in Scandinavian tradition – countries where skiing and hunting skills were once needed to survive. Eventually organised into competition by the Norwegian military, biathlon also evolved into a civilian pastime.

After being a demonstration event at Chamonix 1924 and a number of further Games, official rules were eventually agreed on, and biathlon was added to the Olympic roster officially in 1960. The women’s event followed in 1992.

 

The basics

PyeongChang 2018 will feature 11 biathlon events. They are all broadly similar, with competitors skiing a certain distance and stopping off to shoot along the way, both in a prone (lying down) position at a 45mm-wide target, and a standing position at a target with a diameter of 115mm. Shots are taken from a range of 50m using a bolt-action gun that must weigh at least 3.5kg.

For each of their five shots that miss, an athlete is penalised by either an extra minute of skiing or having to complete a loop of a penalty track.

 

Stay on target

The 2018 events are the sprint – 7.5km for women (10 February) and 10km for men (11 February), in which competitors’ starts are staggered, with two rounds of shooting and a 150m penalty loop.

The pursuit, held over 10km (women) and 12.5km (men), both on 12 February, features four rounds of shooting with competitors setting off at intervals dictated by their finishing times in other races.

The individual is similar but longer – 15km for women (14 February) and 20km for men (15 February), with a staggered start, four rounds of shooting, and a one-minute time penalty for each miss.

The mass start, in which everyone sets off at once, has a 12.5km route for women (17 February) and 15km for men (18 February).

There are also relays: 4x6km women (22 February), 4×7.5km men (23 February) and a new mixed event, featuring two women and two men (20 February).

The action takes place at the Alpensia Biathlon Centre, which has undergone significant improvement and was reopened in December 2017, with a capacity of  7,500.

Germany (45 medals, including 16 gold) and Norway (35, 15 gold) have dominated the event over the years – but expect French, Russian and Finnish athletes in the mix for 2018, too.

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