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This Week in Olympic Sport: March 17 to 23

This Week in Olympic Sport: March 17 to 23

The next seven days mark the busiest of the remaining weeks of the winter sport season with Kerry Barr bidding for a medal at the Women’s World ...

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History

"Biathlon” stems from the Greek word for two contests. Today it is the dual sport of cross-country skiing and small bore  0.22 rifle shooting from 50metres. The sport features several distinct events: the Sprint (10km) , Pursuit (12.5km), Individual (20km) Mass start (15km) and the team Relay (4x7.5km). On each visit to the range competitors have to hit five targets in the Prone and Standing position. Target size varies depending on the shooting position -45mm (a table tennis ball) for prone and 115 mm (or the approximate size of a tennis ball) for standing . The consequence of a missed targets results in either a one minute penalty (Individual 20km) or 150m penalty loop around a circuit before they can continue the rest of the course.

The Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne and Biathlon was founded at Sandhurst during the 1948 Olympic Games and worked for the development of both sports in Olympic competition. The UIPMB organized the first Biathlon World Championships (for men) in Saalfelden, Austria in 1958. This is held annually, except in Olympic years, with women participating from 1994.

Since 1993, the sport has been governed by the International Biathlon Union (IBU) which was formed at London Heathrow in 1993.

 

Olympic History

The men's 20km individual event was first introduced onto the Olympic program in 1960 at Squaw Valley, USA. A men's relay was added at Grenoble 1968, and a 10km sprint event at Lake Placid 1980. Women’s biathlon did not make its debut until 1992 with the 7.5km, 15km and relay events. At Lillehammer 1994 the women's 7.5km relay increased from three legs to four. At Salt Lake, the men's 12.5km and women's 10km pursuit events were added for the first time

Technical

Biathlon consists of eleven events on the Olympic program, five for men, five for women and a mixed relay. The sport features several distinct events: the sprint, pursuit, individual and relay. Competitors get five shots, either prone or standing, in each round of shooting to hit five targets. Target size varies depending on the shooting position - 115 mm (or the approximate size of a tennis ball) for standing and 45mm (a table tennis ball) for prone. The distance between the shooting position and the target is 50 metres.

Sprint (7.5km women / 10km men)

Competitors start at 30-second intervals and stop twice to shoot. There is one prone and then one standing round of shooting with five bullets each time. For each target missed, athletes take a lap around the 150m penalty loop. The top 60 finishers of this competition qualify for the pursuit.

Pursuit (10km women / 12.5km men)

In the pursuit, the 60 competitors start at intervals based on their finishing time in the sprint competition. Competitors have four rounds of shooting - prone, prone, standing, standing - during the course of the event. For each target missed, athletes take a lap around the 150m penalty loop.

Individual (15km women / 20km men)

Competitors start at 30-second intervals and have four rounds of shooting - prone, standing, prone, standing - during the course of the event. For each target missed, one minute is added to their total time.

Relay (4x6km women / 4x7.5km men)

The relay is a fast-paced team event in which four-person teams tackle four legs of 6km and 7.5km for women and men respectively. It begins with a mass start by the first skiers of their respective teams. Each team member has two firing sequences and is allowed three extra bullets (a total of eight) to hit five targets, yet must load the three extra bullets one by one. For each target left standing, competitors ski a lap around the 150m penalty loop. The team whose fourth athlete completes the course first is awarded the gold medal.

Mass start (12.5km women / 15km men)

The best 30 athletes contest the last event on the program, made up of all medallists in the individual, sprint and pursuit events, plus the leading competitor in the World Cup overall points table.

The athletes cover five circuits of 2.5km for women and 3km for men. They stop four times at the firing range, the first two prone, the second two standing, to hit five targets. For each target missed the athlete does a 150m penalty loop. The winner is whichever athlete passes the finishing line first. If a competitor is lapped they must withdraw from the race. The winning time is usually around 35 minutes.

 

equipment

Skis

Competitors use skis which are designed for cross country skiing. These are narrower and shorter than their alpine skiing counterparts. They have upturned tips and taper towards the rear. Choosing the right wax for the snow conditions is imperative.

Boots

There are also special cross country skiing boots which clip into bindings on the ski by the toe only. This leaves the heel free to move. The boots cover the ankle, however are not as rigid as alpine ski boots. Most skiers wear some form of head-gear for protection from the extreme cold.

Rifle

Each skier carries a .22 calibre rifle, weighing between 3.5 and 4.5kg, on their back with a special harness. Biathletes fire at black targets from a shooting “ramp”, made of solidly-packed snow. The targets are electronic and are covered by a white disc if hit. 

rules

A biathlon competition consists of a race in which contestants ski around a cross-country trial system, and where the total distance is broken up by either two or four shooting rounds, half in prone position, the other half standing. Depending on the shooting performance, extra distance or time is added to the contestant's total running distance/time. As in most races, the contestant with the shortest total time wins.

For each shooting round, the biathlete must hit five targets; each missed target must be "atoned for" in one of three ways, depending on the competition format:

  • by skiing around a 150 metres (490 ft) penalty loop, typically taking 20–30 seconds for top-level biathletes to complete (running time depending on weather/snow conditions),
  • by having one minute added to a skier's total time, or
  • by having to use an "extra cartridge" (placed at the shooting range) to finish off the target; only three such "extras" are available for each round, and a penalty loop must be made for each of the targets left standing.

In order to keep track of the contestants' progress and relative standing throughout a race, split times (intermediate times) are taken at several points along the skiing track and upon finishing each shooting round. The large display screens commonly set up at biathlon arenas, as well as the information graphics shown as part of the TV picture, will typically list the split time of the fastest contestant at each intermediate point and the times and time differences to the closest runners-up.

Skiing details

All cross-country skiing techniques are permitted in biathlon, which means that the free technique is usually the preferred one, being the fastest. No equipment other than skis and ski poles may be used to move along the track. Minimum ski length is the height of the skier less 4 centimetres (1.6 in). The rifle has to be carried by the skier during the race at all times.

Shooting details

The target range shooting distance is 50 metres (160 ft). There are five circular targets to be hit in each shooting round. When shooting in the prone position the target diameter is 45 millimetres (1.8 in), when shooting in the standing position the target diameter is 115 millimetres (4.5 in). On all modern biathlon ranges, the targets are self-indicating, in that they flip from black to white when hit, giving the biathlete as well as the spectators instant visual feedback for each shot fired.

Our Results

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Squaw Valley 1960
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Innsbruck 1964
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Grenoble 1968
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Sapporo 1972
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Innsbruck 1976
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Lake Placid 1980
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Sarajevo 1984
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Calgary 1988
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Albertville 1992
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Lillehammer 1994
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Nagano 1998
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Salt Lake City 2002
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Turin 2006
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Vancouver 2010
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EYOWF 2013
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Sochi 2014
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