2014 Winter Olympics

Winter Olympics: Biathlon

A demanding combination of exertion and precision

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Did You Know?

The first known biathlon competition took place between two Norwegian guard companies in 1767.

A demanding combination of exertion and precision, the biathlon combines cross-country skiing and riflery. It was originally devised as a means for hunting. Norway, which has recently dominated the sport at the Olympic level, used the sport as a military tactic for defending the nation's borders.

The men compete in the following:

  • 10 km sprint
  • 12.5 km pursuit
  • 20 km individual
  • 4x7.5 km relay, 2x7.5 km relay (mixed)
  • 15 km mass start

The women compete in the following:

  • 7.5k m sprint
  • 10 km pursuit
  • 15 km individual
  • 4x6 km relay, 2x6 km relay (mixed)
  • 12.5 km mass start

The rifles that are used are .22 caliber, and each weighs a minimum of 7.7 lb (3.5 kg).

In each discipline there are shooting stops placed along the course: two stops for the sprint and relay; four stops for the pursuit, mass start, and individual events. Half of the shooting stops are standing and half are prone.

At each stop, competitors have five bullets and five targets (50 m away) to hit. Each miss in the sprint, pursuit, mass start, and relay events results in a 150-m penalty loop. Each miss in the individual event adds one minute to the athlete's final time.

In the relay, each athlete is allowed three extra bullets. The extra bullets must be hand-loaded one at a time, and they must be used until all five targets have been hit or all the bullets have been shot.

A new event will debut in Sochi: biathlon mixed relay consisting of two women and two men. Men will race 7.5 km and women 6 km. Each athlete will shoot at targets from the standing and prone position and is allowed three extra bullets, which must be hand-loaded one at a time. The team member finishing his or her leg must touch hands with the next racer in the handover zone.

The biathlon events begin the day after Opening Ceremonies, Feb. 8, with 11 days of competition. The biathlon home base will be the Laura Cross-Country Ski and Biathlon Center on Psekhako Ridge in Krasnaya Polyana. The center is named after the turbulent Laura River, which in turn gets its name from a Russian legend about a young girl who, facing life with an old prince, chose death in the river.

The United States is fielding its largest biathlon team in 22 years and may just earn its first Olympic medal in Sochi. The 10-member team includes 4 Olympic veterans in Lowell Bailey (2006, 2010), Tim Burke (2006, 2010), Lanny Barnes (2006, 2010), and Sara Studebaker (2010). Russell Currier, Sean Doherty, and Leif Nordgren round out the men's team, while Annelies Cook, Hannah Dreissigacker, and Susan Dunklee will compete for the women.With a strong world cup season including multiple top-six finishes under their belts, Team USA has the podium in their sights.

—Gerry Brown, Christine Frantz, and Catherine McNiff

More about the 2014 Winter Olympics


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