Winter Olympics


The name biathlon is commonly confused with duathlon, the term used to describe any sporting event made up of two disciplines. Biathlon, however, refers specifically to the winter sport that combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting. Another popular variant is summer biathlon, which combines cross-country running with riflery.

Biathlon events are broadcast most regularly where the sport enjoys its greatest popularity, namely Germany, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Russia, Belarus, Slovenia), and Estonia; it is also broadcast on European-wide Eurosport.


The sport has its origins in an exercise for Norwegian soldiers. The first known competition took place in 1767 when border patrol companies competed against each other. Gradually the sport became more common throughout Scandinavia as an alternative training for the military. Called military patrol, the combination of skiing and shooting was demonstrated at the Olympic Winter Games in 1924, 1928, 1936 and 1948, but did not gain Olympic recognition then, as the small number of competing countries disagreed on the rules (see also Governing body, below).

The first World Championship in the sport 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 Olympic biathlon.

Governing body

In 1948, the Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne et Biathlon (UIPMB) was founded, to standardise 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.

Rule overview

The complete rules of biathlon is given in the official IBU rule book. However, the concise rules given below should be enough for a spectator to understand what is going on at a biathlon stadium whether actually being there or at home watching a televised biathlon event.


All skiing techniques are permitted in biathlon, but no other equipment than skis and ski poles may be used. Minimal length of the skis is 4 cm less than the height of the skier.


The biathlete carries the 3.5 kg rifle including ammunition in magazines on her/his back during the race. The rifles use .22 Long Rifle ammunition and are not automatic or semi-automatic; the action must be operated by the biathlete.

The target range shooting distance is 50 m. Prone shooting target diameter is 45 mm, standing is 115 mm. The five targets are self-indicating, in that they flip from black to white when hit, giving the biathlete instant visual feedback for each shot fired.

Competition format


In the sprint, held over 10 km (7.5 km for women), the biathlete shoots twice (10 shots); once prone, once standing. For each miss, a penalty loop of 150 m has to be skied before the race can be continued. The biathletes start in intervals (normally of 30 seconds, sometimes shortened to 20 seconds in between starters).


In a Pursuit, the biathletes start with the time difference between them from a previous race, often a Sprint. The contestant crossing the finish line first becomes the winner. The distance is 12.5 km (10 km for women), there are four shooting bouts (two prone, two standing), and each miss means a penalty loop of 150 m. In World Cup pursuits, the 60 top ranking biathletes after the preceding race are allowed to participate.

Mass start

In the mass start, all biathletes start at the same time; first across the finish line wins. In this 15 km (or 12.5 km for women) competition, there are four bouts of shooting; two standing, two prone. As in Sprint races, competitors must ski one 150m penalty loop for each miss. To prevent awkward and/or dangerous crowding in the skiing track, and undercapacity at the shooting range, World Cup mass starts are held with only the 30 top ranking athletes on the start line.


The 20 km individual race (15 km for women) is the oldest biathlon event. The biathlete shoots four times, in the order of prone, standing, prone, standing, totalling 20 targets. For each missed target a fixed penalty time, usually one minute, is added to the skiing time of the biathlete. As in the sprint competition, the biathletes start in intervals.


Teams consist of four biathletes, who each ski 7.5 km (both men and women), 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 loaded one at a time from trays at the shooting range. If after eight bullets there are still misses, one 150 m penalty loop must be taken for each miss. 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 exchange.


A team consists of four biathletes, and all 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. The skiers must enter the shooting area together, and must also finish within 15 seconds of each other, otherwise a time penalty of 1 minute is added to the total time. This race format is now obsolete at the World cup level (2004).

Biathlon venues

World Cup events and World Championships in biathlon have traditionally been held at the following relatively few locations. (Due to the complicated shooting range equipment, which absolutely has to work in order to hold successful races, biathlon is a highly demanding sport for organisers.)

Country Major biathlon venues
 Austria Hochfilzen Saalfelden
 Canada Canmore Valcartier
 Finland Kontiolahti Kuusamo Lahti
 Germany Oberhof Ruhpolding Veltins-Arena*
 Italy Antholz-Anterselva Cesana San Sicario
 Norway Beitostølen Holmenkollen Lillehammer
 Russia Khanty-Mansiysk Novosibirsk
 Slovakia Brezno-Osrblie
 Slovenia Pokljuka
 Sweden Östersund
 USA Fort Kent, ME

Presque Isle, ME

Lake Placid, NY Soldier Hollow, UT

*The Veltins-Arena, located in Gelsenkirchen and renamed from Arena AufSchalke in July 2005, is the stadium of German football club FC Schalke 04. Since 2002 the stadium has hosted a special end-of-year mixed team event, now called the "Veltins Biathlon World Team Challenge".


Two common variations on biathlon are summer biathlon, where skiing is replaced by a cross-country run, and archery biathlon (or ski archery), where the rifle is replaced by a longbow. There have also been summer competitions in roller-ski biathlon, mountain bike biathlon and orienteering biathlon.


2006 Winter Olympics medal count
Pos Country Gold Silver Bronze Total
1  Germany 11 12 6 29
2  United States 9 9 7 25
3  Austria 9 7 7 23
4  Russia 8 6 8 22
5  Canada 7 10 7 24
6  Sweden 7 2 5 14
7  Korea 6 3 2 11
8  Switzerland 5 4 5 14
9  Italy 5 0 6 11
10  France 3 2 4 9
 Netherlands 3 2 4 9
12  Estonia 3 0 0 3
13  Norway 2 8 9 19
14  China 2 4 5 11
15  Czech Republic 1 2 1 4
16  Croatia 1 2 0 3
17  Australia 1 0 1 2
18  Japan 1 0 0 1
19  Finland 0 6 3 9
20  Poland 0 1 1 2
21  Belarus 0 1 0 1
 Bulgaria 0 1 0 1
 Great Britain 0 1 0 1
 Slovakia 0 1 0 1
25  Ukraine 0 0 2 2
26  Latvia 0 0 1 1
    84 84 84 252

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