Learn about this Winter Olympic sport

January 10, 2014


The word biathlon (by-ath-lon) is Greek for “two tests.” The event combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting. Men’s biathlon first appeared at the Winter Olympic Games in 1960. The women’s event became an Olympic sport in 1992. Biathlon was not always a sport. It began hundreds of years ago in Northern Europe, as a method of hunting. Eventually, the practice was adopted as a military exercise. Today, biathlon includes 10 separate events—five for men and five for women. The mission: to complete the course in the least amount of time and hit as many targets as possible. A mixed team relay, in which teams consist of two men and two women, was added to the 2014 Winter Olympic program.

The Rules of the Game

During a race, athletes ski across more than 12 miles of snow-covered ground. When competitors reach a shooting range, they must stop, put down their ski poles, and shoot at metal targets. For each range, the athletes alternate between shooting in prone (laying on the ground) or standing position. Racers are penalized with added time if they miss a target.

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