Biathlon, one of the most challenging events in the Winter Olympics, is a unique combination of cross-country skiing and rifle shooting. For those familiar with the summer sport of Modern Pentathlon, Biathlon is similar to the running and shooting segment of the Modern Pentathlon, except that here, the athletes are skiing rather than running.
source: Wikimedia Commons
In Biathlon, competitors ski, with a rifle on their backs, around a cross-country skiing course for a fixed difference before they reach a shooting range, where they shoot at I've targets from either a prone or standing position. They then continue skiing until the next shooting range, and so on. The challenge is to bring the heart rate down and compose oneself before shooting, having skied for several kilometres. The shooting part of the race is crucial in determining the outcome as missed targets result in, depending on the event, either extra laps of a penalty loop or added time to the results. There are 5 events for men and women each, and one mixed relay.
In the Individual event, the biathletes start one at a time, with 30-60 second gaps. The race is 20km for men and 15km for women, with 4 rounds of shooting. For every missed target, a minute is added to the athlete’s time. Timings determine the rankings.
The Sprint is very similar, only shorter. It is 10km for men and 7.5km for women, with 2 rounds of shooting. The other difference is that here, for every missed shot, the athlete must ski the penalty loop in a time limit.
The starting order of the Pursuit event is determined by the results of the Sprint and Individual. The winners of these two start first and the remaining biathletes’ time delay is deterring by the gap between them and the Sprint winner. It is 12.5km for men and 10km for women, with 4 rounds of shooting. Missed targets result in laps of the penalty loop. The results are determined by the order in which the biathletes finish.
The Mass Start is fairly self-explanatory. All the athletes start together. Men ski 15km and women ski 12.5km. There are four rounds of shooting. They must ski the penalty loop for every missed target.
In the Relay, there are 4 athletes per team. Men ski 7.5km and women ski 6km. There are 30m long changeover zones where there must be physical contact between teammates for the next leg to start. There are 2 shooting rounds per athlete. Here, the athletes have 8 bullets to hit the 5 targets, but the spare bullets must be loaded manually, which takes up time. If, even after the 8 bullets have been used up, there are targets left, the athlete must ski the penalty loop (150m). In the mixed relay, there is only one shooting round per athlete and the order of skiers must be woman, woman, man, man.