Men's 50 Meter (m) Rifle, Three Position
The .22-caliber (5.6 mm) smallbore, single-loader rifle, is used in this event. The weight of the rifle may not exceed 8 kilograms (17.6 pounds). Any sight not containing a lens or system of lenses is permitted. The same firearm requirements apply to the men's 50m rifle in the prone position.
In the 50m competitions, the athlete fires a round of 40 shots in each of the three shooting positions: prone, standing and kneeling. The target is 50 meters (164 feet) away and its center ring is 10.4 millimeters (.4 inches) in diameter. Once the competition begins, there are time limits of 45 minutes in the prone position, 75 minutes in the standing position and 60 minutes in the kneeling position. The best eight athletes from the preliminary round qualify for the final. The final consists of 10 shots in the standing position with a time limit of 75 seconds per shot. In the finals, the score is evaluated in tenths of points. The score from the finals is added to the preliminary round score to determine the order of finish.
Women's 50m Rifle, Three Position
Again, a .22-caliber (5.6 mm) smallbore, single-loader rifle is used. The weight of the rifle may not exceed 6.5 kilograms (14.3 pounds). Any sight not containing a lens or system of lenses is permitted.
A round of 20 shots is fired in each of the prone, standing and kneeling positions. The time limit for all three positions is 135 minutes. The target is 50 meters (164 feet) away and its center ring is 10.4 mm (.4 inches) in diameter. The best eight athletes advance to the finals, where they each fire 10 shots in the standing position with a time limit of 75 seconds per shot. In the finals, the score is evaluated in tenths of points. The score from the finals is added to the preliminary round score to determine the order of finish.
Men's 50m Rifle, Prone
The same .22-caliber (5.6 mm) smallbore used in the mens three-position event is used for this event.
Sixty shots are fired in the prone position. The competition time is 75 minutes. The target is 50 meters (164 feet) away and has a center ring 10.4 mm (.4 inches) in diameter. Eight athletes advance to the final, where they each fire 10 shots with a time limit of 45 seconds per shot in the prone position. In the finals, the score is evaluated in tenths of points. The score from the finals is added to the preliminary round score to determine the order of finish.
Men and Womens 10m Air Rifle
Any .177-caliber (4.5 mm) rifle powered by air or carbon dioxide may be used in this event. The firearm may not weigh more than 5.5 kilograms (12.1 pounds). Any sight not containing a lens or system of lenses is permitted. Competitors complete 60 shots in 105 minutes. The shots are fired in the standing position at a target 10 meters (32 feet, 9 inches) away that has a center ring 0.5 mm (0.02 inches) in diameter. Eight athletes advance to the finals, where they each have 75 seconds to fire 10 shots. Other aspects of finals selection are the same as for other rifle events.
In womens 10m air rifle, the same firearm requirements apply as in the men's 10m air rifle, but the number of shots is reducedwith only 40 shots in 75 minutes. The same targets are used as in the mens air rifle event.
Men's 10m Air RifleRunning Target
Rifles requirements are the same as in other air rifle events, except telescopic sights are permitted, but the length of the sight must not exceed 300 mm (11.8 inches) in length and may have a magnifying power no greater than 4x. Shooting rounds differ from other air rifle events, as indicated below, but finals selection is similar to other rifle events, except as described below.
Sixty shots are fired, 30 in a slow round and 30 in a rapid fire round. In the slow round, the target, which is pulled across an aisle measuring 2 meters (6 feet, 7 inches) in width, is visible for five seconds. In the rapid round, the target is only visible for two and a half seconds. During both rounds, the target is 10 meters (32 feet, 9 inches) away and its center ring is 5.5 mm (0.22 inch) in diameter. In different rounds, the targets alternately appear from the right or left. The six best athletes from the preliminary round advance to the 10-shot final, which is shot from the standing position with the target moving at a rapid speed.
The word "biathlon" stems from the Greek word for two contests. Today it's interpreted as a joining of two sports: cross-country skiing and rifle shooting. Biathlon was originally a tactic of survival rather than a sport: Northern Europeans skied to hunt for food and, later, skied with weapons to defend their countries.
It's believed that biathlon predates all other Olympic skiing sports. The oldest known picture of a skier is a rock painting found along Norway's northern coast. The etching was discovered in 1929 and is believed to be more than 4,000 years old. It shows a man on long curved objects that look very much like today's skis, carrying a weapon. This ancient skier could be called the first biathlete on record.
There are many other graphic depictions, particularly Russian stone sketches, which depict hunters on skis. In the books of Bishop Olaus Magnus of Sweden, which date to 1539, numerous scenes of winter hunting can be found.
The descriptions accompanying these works often illuminate the pictures -- one reads, "These are the Laplanders, who with open and long woods tied to their feet roam swiftly at will over mountains and valleys to hunt." While many trace the roots of the modern biathlete to soldiers on skis, patrolling Eastern European borders, it appears the hunter on skis predated the soldier. As with many other modern sports, an activity originally practical in nature has evolved into a regulated contest of skills.
It is believed that cross-country soldiers were first used during the Great Scandinavian War of 1700-1718. A ski-runner company guarding the Norwegian-Swedish border organized the world's first recorded biathlon competition. This 1767 race offered "a prize to the one who ran the course best during which he must shoot his rifle at a target set 40 to 50 steps distant."
The military-biathlon connection was reinforced in 19th century in Norway, where the Tyrsil Rifle and Ski Club were formed in 1861 to encourage national defense. The strategic deployment of soldiers on skis continued through World War II, as the U. S. 10th Mountain Division fought in the alpine regions of Northern Italy. Using the skills familiar to biathletes, the Americans -- including Bob Dole of Kansas, who was injured and later, became a U.S. senator and presidential candidate -- defeated German troops in 1944 and 1945.
The women's biathlon World Cup began in 1984 and made its first appearance at the Olympics in 1992. The American woman who pioneered biathlon was Holly Beattie-Farr. She showed up at the U.S. Olympic Trials in 1979, expressing her interest in the sport. The U.S. team allowed Beattie-Farr to compete, and although she didn't make the team, the movement to establish the women's event was under way.
There was no international program of biathlon for women, and resources were slim. Several countries banded together to establish a World Cup for women. The proposal was primarily supported by the United States, Canada, the Soviet Union and Germany. Many middle European countries resisted until finally, a World Cup was established in 1984. Rejected by the International Olympic Committee for the 1988 Olympics, the movement redoubled its efforts and the sport was included in 1992.
During a biathlon race, athletes cover as many as 20 km of snow-packed trail with multiple shooting stops. The competitors use a free skiing, or skating, technique in which they propel themselves by pushing out on the edges of their skis with the aid of long, light poles. The objective is to hit all required targets while completing the course in the fastest elapsed time.
While skiing, athletes' heart rates will often exceed 180 beats per minute (bpm). When they stop at the rifle range, however, they must relax and focus on reducing their heart rates to no more than 120 bpm in order to shot accurately at a coin-size target from a distance of 50 meters (approximately 50 yards). This requires rigorous daily training, extraordinary self-control and powerful concentration.
Individual Events, 4 Stops - Mens 20 km; Womens 15 km
The athletes stop four times at the firing range. The first and third stops require shooting from the prone position, and the second and fourth are from the standing position. At each stop, the shooters must hit all five targets with five bullets. For each missed target, the athlete is penalized one minute.
Sprint Events, 2 Stops Mens 10 km; Womens 7.5 km
Athletes are required to stop twice at the shooting range. One sequence is fired prone, and the second is performed standing. The competitors must hit all five targets with five bullets. For each missed target, the athlete must take a lap around the 150-meter (approximately150 yards) penalty loop. The top 60 finishers of this race qualify for the pursuit event.
Pursuit Events, 4 Stops Mens 12.5 km; Womens 10 km
The winner of the sprint starts first, followed by the remaining skiers who start in 30-second intervals based on their sprint results. Competitors stop four times; the first two firing sequences are prone, and the last two are standing. Intervals between stops are 2.5 km for men and 2 km for women. At each stop, athletes must hit all five targets with five bullets. For each target missed, athletes take a lap around the 150-meter penalty loop.
Team Relays, 2 Stops Mens 7.5 km; Womens 7.5 km
Relay is a fast-paced team event in which three-person women's teams tackle three legs (7.5 km each) in a 22.5 km race, and four-person men's teams ski four legs (7.5 km) for a total of 30 km. Each team member has two firing sequences: prone and standing. In the relay, competitors are allowed three extra bullets (for a total of eight) to hit five targets. For each target left standing, athletes ski a lap around the 150-meter penalty loop.
For the skiing portion of the event, competitors are allowed to use either the classical or the freestyle method (although all use freestyle because it is faster). However, the freestyle method is forbidden for the first 100 meters of the men and women's relay events. As in cross-country skiing, any competitor who is about to be passed must clear the track on the first request, although this does not apply to the last 100 meters before the finish or the last 100 meters before the relay tag zone.
Equipment and Costs
Automatic or semi-automatic rifles are prohibited. The caliber of the barrel must be less than 5.6 millimeters, .22 caliber U.S. standard, and the minimum trigger pressure is 500 grams. Only international standard velocity .22-caliber long rifle rimfire may be used, and bullets must be made of lead or a similar soft material. A rifle, with all accessories except the magazines and ammunition, may weigh no less than 3.5 kg. Magazines are carried in the forestock. By design, magazines hold five rounds of ammunition and a carrying chamber for the relay rounds. When racing, a loaded magazine cannot be in the rifle.
In addition to the proper skiing gear, standard rifles generally cost around $2,500. Anschutz, in Ulm, Germany, builds most of the top rifles used in competition.
United States Biathlon Association
29 Ethan Allen Avenue
Colchester, Vermont 05446
Phone: (802) 654-7833
Fax: (802) 654-7830
National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF)
11 Mile Hill Road
Newtown, CT 06470
Phone: (203) 426-1320
Fax: (203) 426-1087
International Biathlon Union
Airport center Postfach 1
5073 Wals Himmelreich - Austria
(Material courtesy of National Shooting Sports Foundation)