After looking at some of the fastest events that can be seen at the Winter Olympics, let’s move on to a slightly slower sport which if you are not European you may not be familiar with. Biathlon is one of the toughest sports at the games, athletes have to ski cross-country (flat or uphill) whilst carrying a rifle that they will have to shoot at targets in designated areas of the course, these are known as bouts. Biathlon originated in Norway as a military exercise and first appeared in the 1924 Olympics under the name “Military Patrol”, it only lasted 3 Olympics before being removed from the schedule after WWII due to post war sensitivities. In 1960 it was reinstated and eventually grew to the Biathlon event we have now.
What are the rules?
The rules for the Biathlon events are fairly simple. Each event is over a different distance and the athletes will have either two or four bouts depending on the distance. Athletes are penalised for missing targets when shooting, in individual events each athlete will have an equal amount of bullets as targets, in the relay they will carry an extra 3 bullets but they will have to load them as needed….and that is about it, the penalties differ depending on the event so we will look at that below. If we were to go in to more depth we would talk about the length of the skis and the weight of the gun, but for the average spectator these are irrelevant.
What are the different events?
The biathlon is broken down to six events, Individual, Sprint, Pursuit, Relay, Mixed Relay and Mass Start.
Individual – This is the traditional biathlon, men will ski 20km and women 15km, they will have 4 shooting bouts 2 prone and 2 standing which are alternated. If a target is missed they will have 1 minute added to their time. The event is started at intervals meaning the fastest time wins but you may have to sit and wait for every athlete to finish to know if you have won!
Sprint – The Sprint event is essentially half the individual event, with distances of 10km and 7.5km and 1 prone and 1 standing bout. However in the Sprint athletes will have to ski a 150m penalty loop if a target is missed. It is also started at intervals but at least the wait is half the time!
Relay – The relay event is what you would expect from a relay event, 4 athletes tackling the course and one starts as one finishes. They will compete over 7.5km and 6km, with the bouts and penalties remaining the same as the sprint. As mentioned earlier the athletes will be able to carry 3 extra rounds for each bout. The noticeable difference between the relay and the individual events however is the start as they will begin with a mass start so all the athletes in the first leg set off at once! First across the line wins!
Mixed Relay – The mixed relay is similar to the Relay however will consist of 2 men and 2 women, they will ski over different distances depending on sex. Everything else is the same!
Pursuit – The Pursuit is an event like no other, imagine a 100m Sprint but Usain Bolt got a 10-metre head start on the rest of the field and that is essentially the Pursuit! The winners of the Spring and Individual events will set off first, the remaining athletes will follow on at intervals depending on finish time in the Sprint event. Athletes will race over 12.5km or 10km and will have 4 bouts 2 prone followed by 2 standing, if a target is missed they will have a 150m penalty loop and then the race is decided by the first across the line!
Mass Start – The Mass Start is a simpler event and the name gives away the biggest difference between this and the Individual and Sprint events. Athletes will race over 15km or 12.5km and have 4 bouts, 2 prone followed by 2 standing. First across the line wins!
Who to look out for
In the Biathlon we have a King and Queen! Both highly talented and well-decorated athletes.
The King of Biathlon is Ole Einar Bjørndalen of Norway, Ole will be 44 when competing at PyeongChang and this will be his 7th Olympic Games! He has won 13 Medals (8 Gold) at the Olympics and adds to this 45 Medals (20 Gold) at the World Championships and 26 World Cup titles! Ole is, if you haven’t guessed already, the most decorated Winter Olympian of all time with 13 medals and will be looking to add to that in PyeongChang.
The Queen of Biathlon does not have the Olympic history of Ole as she is only 23 and was unsuccessful in 2014 but Laura Dahlmeier has come into her own in the years since Sochi and is a 7 time World Champion with a further 6 medals in the world championships and in 2017 she took home 3 titles at the World Cup! However she will face competition from 3 times Olympic Gold Medalist (and wife of Ole Einar Bjørndalen) Darya Domracheva who is representing Belarus and will be the countries best chance for a medal!
Written by Imran Ali