sports gazette

A Guide to...Biathlon

Published: 8 Dec 2016

With the winter sports calendar now in full swing, the Sports Gazette provides you with all you need to know about the biathlon.

A Brief History

The biathlon was originally created as a training exercise for Norwegian soldiers and the first known competition was held in 1767.

Broadly, the biathlon consists of a combination of cross country skiing and shooting, with each shooting range consisting of five targets.

The first appearance of a version of the biathlon in the Olympic Games was in the 1960 in California, under the name of ‘military patrol’.

After this, the sport went out of favour with Olympic authorities due to disputes regarding the official set of rules.

However, the sport became popular again and the first biathlon World Championships were held in 1958 in Saalfelden, Austria.

The first individual gold medal was won by Adolf Wiklund, with his Sweden team then seeing off Russia in the team event.


Individual (15km women/20km men)
The individual is the oldest biathlon event. The competitors tackle five laps of the course and complete four shootings in the order of prone (laying down), standing, prone, standing.

Fixed time penalties apply for each missed shot and the racers start in timed intervals.

Sprint (7.5km women/10km men)
A shorter version of the individual, also using a staggered start, the sprint consists of three laps and two shootings; prone then standing.

Each missed shot results in the racers having to complete a penalty loop of 150m.

Pursuit (10km women/12.5km men)
In a pursuit, the biathletes start in timed intervals according to their previous sprint or individual race result.

The race consists of five laps and four shootings (two prone and two standing), again with each missed shot incurring a 150m penalty lap. Only the top 60 racers from the previous race take part.

Mass start (12.5km women/15km men)
As implied by the name, every biathlete begins the race at the same time. After five laps and four shootings (two prone, two standing) the first person over the line is the winner.

Once again, there are penalty loops of 150m for any missed shots and, as with the pursuit, the field is reduced for the start line with only the top 30 competitors racing.

Relay (4x6km women/4x7.5km men)
There are four biathletes on a team in the relay and they each complete three laps and two shootings (prone and standing).

In contrast to other events, each biathlete only has 8 bullets for each shooting range. If after using all eight bullets there are still targets standing, the individual completes the 150m penalty loop.


World Cup
The World Cup in essentially the biathlon season and the competition starts in late November/ December and runs through to March.

There are meets at the weekend and the athletes compete in various disciplines. The biathlete with the highest score at the end of the season across all disciplines is crowned as the Big Crystal Globe winner.

In the men’s event, France’s Martin Fourcade has won the last five titles in a row and is hot favourite to match Norwegian Ole Einar Bjorndalen’s record haul of six.

In the women’s competition, Sweden’s Magdalena Forsberg was the winner for six consecutive years between 1997 and 2002. In more recent years, Magdalena Neuner of Germany has been the dominant force with a hat-trick of wins.

World Championships
The Biathlon World Championships are held every year in each of the biathlon disciplines, as well as team events. The result of the World Championship contributes to the biathletes cumulative world cup score.

The most decorated biathletes in history of the World Championships are Bjorndalen and Neuner, with 44 and 17 medals respectively. Norway are historically the most successful country with 184 medals in total including 66 Golds.

Winter Olympics
The biathlon was formally introduced as an Olympic sport in 1960, with women first competing in 1992. Since 1960, the number of disciplines in the competition has grown and at the 2014 Sochi Games, the mixed relay was introduced for the first time. Germany are the most successful biathlon nation in Winter Olympics, with a total medal haul of 45.

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