Biathlon – Who knew?

17 June 2009

After chatting with a few friends the other night about Winter Olympic sports, we couldn’t help but get stuck on the sport of Biathlon – how did this come about?… an Olympic sport that combines both cross-country skiing and rifle shooting.  It was quickly decided, unanimously, that the sport of Biathlon is not only very odd, but also quite dangerous, no?

I needed to know more!

It turns out that the sport of Biathlon was first developed as a training excercise for Norwegian soldiers, an alternative to military training.  The first competition was held in 1767, and in 1861 the first known ski club, the Trysil Rifle and Ski Club, was formed in Norway to promote national defense at the local level.

In 1924 this ‘military training’ was brought to the attention of the Olympics, but was disputed.  In 1928, 1936 and 1948 it was demonstrated at the Olympic Games (an attempt to promote the sport), but was denied recognition – too few countries in the field, and those who did, couldn’t agree on the rules!

It wasn’t until the mid-1950s when the sport was introduced into the  Russian and Swedish winter sport circuits and the public LOVED it!  It was soon after (1958) that the first World Championships in biathlon was held in Austria.  By 1960, the Olympic committee came around and included the Biathlon in the Olympic Games held in Rome, Italy.

So how does it work?

Athletes begin by cross country skiing around a track, covering a distance of 7-20km depending on the variant of the Biathlon contest.  The distance is broken up by either two or four shooting rounds, half in prone position (lying down), the other half, standing.  When they arrive at their shooting post, they us a .22 calibre rifle at a range of 50 metres.  Their targets are 115mm when standing and 45mm when prone.

For each of the shooting rounds, the athletes must hit five targets.  If you miss your target, you need to make this up in one of three ways (depending on the format of the competition):

- Ski around a 150 metre penalty loop

- Have one minute added to your total time

- Or use an ‘extra cartridge’ (placed a the shooting range) to finish off the target; there are only three of these ‘extras’ available for each round and you’re also stuck doing a penalty lap for each target left standing.

Finally, the athlete with the shortest time wins the race!

Next on our list of sports we didn’t know much about was, Skeleton.  Stay tuned!

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