Biathlon has its origins in the ancient hunting practices of northern Europeans. An Olympic event since 1960, biathlon today combines cross-country skiing with small-caliber rifle marksmanship.
Biathlon in Russia
The development of modern biathlon in Russia began at the start of the 20th century.
Competitions that combined cross-country skiing and rifle marksmanship were popular in the Red Army in the 1920s and 30s.
Athletes would ski 50 km in full military gear and complete several shooting stages.
The Spartakiad of the Peoples of the Soviet Union—a sporting event similar to the Olympics and held every four years—was instrumental in promoting biathlon in the USSR.
Biathlon as it is
The Individual competition is a classical style biathlon race covering 20 km for men and 15 km for women, with 4 shooting lanes. Biathletes start at intervals of either 30 seconds or one minute with each competitor choosing his (her) own shooting lane. The first and third shooting stages are taken from the prone position, while the second and fourth are fired standing. Biathletes are penalized one minute for each missed target.
The Sprint is an abbreviated version of the Individual competition and one in which speed is a key factor. Men race 10 km, and women 7.5 km, each with two shooting rounds - one prone and one standing. For every missed target, a competitor must complete a 150-meter penalty loop.
In the Pursuit competition, athletes start in a staggered fashion depending on their time in the sprint race. Men ski 12.5 km and women 10 km. Each covers four shooting stages—the first two are taken prone and the second two from a standing position. As with the Sprint competition, athletes ski a 150-meter penalty loop for each miss.
The Mass Start competition is one of the newest biathlon formats. It covers a distance of 15 km for men and 12.5 km for women, with four shooting stages, the first two prone and second two standing. In each race, the 30 highest ranked athletes start together simultaneously and take their place at the first shooting stage depending on their starting number. Athletes line up at the remaining shooting stages depending on the order in which they arrived at the firing line. A 150-meter penalty loop is added for each miss.
The Relay consists of four-person national teams covering distances of 7.5 km for men and 6 km for women. Each leg of the race includes two shooting stages, one prone and one standing. As opposed to the individual disciplines, biathletes in the relay have 8 rounds of ammunition for each firing range – five stored in the magazine and three extra rounds that can be loaded by hand, if necessary. Once all 8 rounds have been fired, the athlete must ski a 150-meter penalty loop for each missed target.
- Any form of ski techniques is permitted in the biathlon. However, only skis and ski poles may be used.
- Ski boots, providing support and controlling motion.
- Ski poles made of composite materials such as carbon-fibre. Their length cannot exceed the height of the athlete using them.
- The biathlon rifle is a 5.6 mm calibre weapon that is carried on the athlete’s back in a special harness with the barrel pointed up.
- A one-piece special ski suit helps maintain a constant body temperature and minimizes wind resistance.
- Skis cannot be shorter than 4 cm less than an athlete’s height. To increase glide, various special waxes are applied to the skis.
Biathlon in Sochi
A world-class «Laura» Cross-country Ski & Biathlon Center is built for the Olympic Winter Games of 2014 in Sochi. Sitting to the northwest of the Rosa Khutor Alpine Resort, this facility includes a 9,600 seat stadium, courses, a shooting range, and a warm-up area.
In designing the facility, preference was given to modern technical solutions, while the issues of universality and multifunctional use formed the basis for all project solutions.
The facility was commissioned in 2012 for test competitions.
After the Games, the Center will become Russia’s only world-class training center of its kind located at that altitude, and will serve as a venue for large international competitions.