Winter Olympics 2018: A beginner's guide to biathlon ahead of the Pyeongchang Games

Ahead of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, Firstpost offers a handy guide and a visual explainer to all the different winter sports.

The word biathlon stems from the Greek word for “two contests”. The modern sport of biathlon combines two contrasting skills: skiing and shooting.

Martin Fourcade of France in action during the Men 15 km Mass Start at the Biathlon World Cup in 2017. Reuters

Martin Fourcade of France in action during the Men 15 km Mass Start at the Biathlon World Cup in 2017. Reuters

Biathlon has its roots in survival skills practised in the snow-covered forests of Scandinavia, where people hunted on skis with rifles slung over their shoulders. In modern times, the activity that developed into this sport was an exercise for Norwegian people which serves as an alternative training for the military.

At Pyeognchang, the biathlon events will be held at the Alpensia Biathlon Centre.

Olympic sport since: 1960

Categories: There will be 11 events contested under biathlon at Pyeongchang.

The different categories are: Individual (20km for men, 15 for women); Sprint (10km for men, 7.5 for women); Pursuit (12.5km for men, 10 km for women); Mass Start (15km for men, 12.5km for women); Relay (4 × 7.5K for men, 4 x 6k for women) and Mixed Relay

Top contenders: Johannes Thingnes Boe and his older brother Tarjei Boe from Norway are among the favourites to win while Frenchman Martin Fourcade is the sport’s standalone star male athlete.

Among the women, Kaisa Makarainen of Finland, Laura Dahlmeier of Germany and Anastasiya Kuzmina of Slovakia are the favourites.

Event schedule: 7 to 23 February

Medals at stake: 11

How does it work?

Biathlon is the combination of two sports into one race: cross-country skiing and shooting. Athletes are judged for their power and endurance as racers and their composure and accuracy as marksmen.

In biathlon, athletes strap guns on their backs, ski for a certain distance, and then stop to shoot at a designated target.

There are two types of shooting positions — shooting while standing up and shooting while lying face down (called prone).


In the Individual race, the athletes’ starts are staggered by 30 seconds and they compete for the best finish time. There are four rounds of shooting for the biathletes, which alternate between the prone position and standing position. In very round the biathletes must hit five targets with five bullets.

The Sprint has an identical format as the Individual but features exactly half the distance and only two shooting rounds.

The Pursuit format is a unique event among racing sports at the Olympics. The performance of the athletes in the sprint and individual events determines when they start in this format.


The winners of the Sprint and the Individual competition depart first in the Pursuit competition. The other athletes depart according to the amount of time they were behind the Sprint winner. This event holds added importance as only the top 30 finishers qualify for the Mass Start.

In the Mass Start, all contestants start the event at the same time. All the athletes stop four times to shoot – two rounds of five shots prone, and then two rounds of five shots standing. The athlete who crosses the finish line first is the winner.


The Relay events feature teams of four athletes; the Mixed Relay has teams of two men and two women.

Scoring and rules

In all formats, athletes race around a closed course, stopping at set intervals to hit five targets 50 meters away.

For every target missed while shooting, the athlete is fined with a penalty. In the Individual format, for each missed target, a penalty of one minute is added to the skiing time of the athlete. In all the other events, a distance penalty (one lap around a 150 meter loop, branched off from the larger race course) is added.


Biathletes shooting in the prone position during the Biathlon World Cup in 2017. Reuters

Biathletes shooting in the prone position during the Biathlon World Cup in 2017. Reuters

All cross-country skiing techniques are permitted in the biathlon, which means that the free technique is usually the preferred one, being the fastest. The biathletes can only use skis and ski poles to move along the track.

The biathletes carry .22 caliber small-bore rifles, painted in country colors. They have to ski the entire race with them strapped to their backs.

Updated Date: Feb 09, 2018 16:08 PM

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