Biathlon for athletes with a physical disability was introduced in 1988 in Innsbruck, Austria. In 1992, athletes with a visual impairment were also able to compete in biathlon.
The 1994 Paralympic Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway, marked several other milestones in the history of Paralympic Nordic Skiing: biathlon was introduced as a medal event for men and women. For the first time Nordic skiers (biathlon and cross-country skiing) competed at the same venue that was used for the Olympic Winter Games.
Biathlon combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting similar to the Olympic biathlon competitions. Athletes are categorized as standing, sit-ski or visually impaired and compete against athletes with similar disabilities. Paralympic athletes always shoot in a prone position.
The Biathlon event takes place on a 2.5-km loop, which is repeated five times for a total of 12km (long distance) and the pursuit event. Athletes stop for two or four shooting sessions along the course. They are given five shots and are required to hit a target positioned at a distance of 10 meters. The penalty for a missed shot can be a time penalty that is added to the total time or a penalty loop (150m) to ski once per missed shot.
The pursuit event is a two-part competition with the first part consisting of a qualification round (sprint) where athletes ski a short loop (about 1.3 km) three times and stop twice for shooting. For each missed shot, the athlete is given a 20 second penalty.
The top ten athletes in the qualification round compete in the finals which are organized as a «pursuit» start competition. Athletes start according to a preset formula based on the results of the qualification round and the handicap percentages in the different categories. The athletes ski a short loop (about 1.3 km) three times, stopping twice for shooting. For each missed shot, the athlete must ski an extra 80 m penalty loop.
The skier that passes the finish line first is the winner.
- Blind athletes shoot with an electronic rifle that allows aiming by hearing. The closer the rifle points to the centre of the target, the higher the tone is.
- The target size has a diameter of 30mm for visually impaired athletes and 20mm for athletes with a physical disability.
- An athlete with a lower-body disability uses a sledge, which is a specially built chair that can be attached to a pair of skis. The skis are almost identical to standard skis, although shorter, and are attached to the chair with a standard cross-country binding.
- Amputee athletes use a rifle support when shooting.
Biathlon in Sochi
«Laura» Cross-country Ski & Biathlon Center meeting the highest international standards is built in Sochi for biathlon events during the Winter Paralympic Games in 2014. The Complex is located to the north-west of the Rosa Khutor Mountain Ski Resort. It includes a stadium for 9 600 spectators with tracks, a shooting range and warm-up zones.
The developers preferred modern technological solutions. Design concepts rest on the principle of versatility and multifunctional performance.
This facility was put into operation in 2012 for test competitions. After the Games, the Complex will be used for major international contests.