Winter Olympics: What is the biathlon?

The Winter Olympics are continuing across the span of Friday 4 February to Sunday 20 February in the Beijing National Stadium in China across the regions of the Yanqing District and Chongoli District.

The 2022 games are officially called the XXIV Olympic Winter Games and also known as Beijing 2022.

Approximately 91 nations take part in the games with around 2,871 athletes this year. This year’s motto is “together for a shared future”.

At present, where Great Britain has scored no medals, Norway are in the lead of the most acquired Winter Olympic 2022 medals with a total of 14 where six are gold. Germany are second with a tied six gold medals and three silvers, however, they have nine overall total medals due to scoring no bronzes.

What sport is skiing and shooting?

A biathlon is the winter athletic sport which combines cross-country skiing and rifle sharpshooting.

There are other names for the biathlon including bobsleigh, duathlon, track and field, cross country, speed skating, and cycle-cross.

Competitors in the sport must cover a cross-country course whilst carrying a 5.6mm (.22 caliber) rifle which is specifically designed for the sporting event. Classical or freestyle skating techniques can be used in the event for the skiing.

During the intervals, athletes must stop at firing ranges to shoot at five targets 50 meters (164 feet) away from them. When shooting, athletes must do this from both standing and prone positions, meaning to lay down on your stomach.

The target size for where they aim to shoot at will vary depending on the shooting position they are in, with an 11.5cm (4.5 inch) target for standing shooters and a 4.5cm (1.8 inch) target for when they are laying down on their stomach.

There are six types of biathlon events: individual, sprint, relay, pursuit, mass start, and team.

What is the origin of biathlon?

The sport originates form Scandinavia, where people would hunt using skis with rifles draped over their shoulders. Early Scandinavians also looked up to the Norse god Ull, who was seen as a ski god and hunting god. Ull’s goddess wife was also praised for being a hunter-skier.

The combined skills of skiing and rifle shooting were first developed from the militaries where Norwegian and Swedish ski units fought in the Second Northern War from 1700 to 1721.

The first biathlon club called the Trysil and Rifle Ski Club was set up in Norway in 1861, after the first biathlon competition took place in 1767, which led to its popularization spreading through Europe. The biathlon was part of the first ever Winter Olympics, which was held more than 60 years later in 1924 France. The men and women’s separate events came later with the mens in 1960 and the women’s in 1992.

There is also a Biathlon World Cup which is a top-level biathlon season-long competition series that has been held since the winter seasons of 1977 and 1978 for men, and 1982 and 1983 for women.

The women’s seasons for the World Cup were initially called the European Cup until 1986 and 1987, despite athletes not being limited to Europe.

How do I get into biathlon?

To get into participating in a biathlon, you must have the ability to lower your heart rate to hold the rifle steady to shoot at a small target after you have completed part of the cross-country ski course.

Competitors also need to possess technique and stamina as the cross-country skiing lasts for up to 20km.

You can face penalties of having extra distance to ski if you miss your five targets on the rifle shooting intervals, so patience and agility is a key skill.

If winter is too much of a frightful condition for you, you can also participate in a summer biathlon.

Summer biathlons involve roller skis to enable you to be on dry ground. A lot of biathlon training around the year is done this way on tarmac surfaces including parks and outdoor cycle tracks.

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