Winter Olympics: What You Need to Know about Biathlon Races


Biathlon athletes are proficient in both cross-country skiing, and sharp shooting under pressure.

A biathlon race consists of athletes racing around a closed course with a rifle strapped to their back, and they periodically stop at designated stations to shoot a series of targets.

Each competitor is equipped with a small-bore .22 caliber rifle.

Shooters are penalized for each shot missed, where, depending on the race format, the penalty can either be an additional lap around a 150m track, or a 1-minute penalty added to their final time – the penalty track is separate from the race track.

According to USA Today, there will be a total of 11 biathlon events featured in the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics, and these are the five formats you can expect to see when they begin this weekend:

  • Individual (men’s 20 km, women’s 15 km) – Competitors start in intervals, and go through four shooting segments, with five targets each. Missed targets result in a one-minute penalty.
  • Sprint (men’s 12.5 km, women’s 7.5 km) – The same format as individual, but half the length and with only two shooting segments. Missed targets result in a 150m penalty loop.
  • Pursuit (men’s 12.5 km, women’s 10 km) – The top finishers from the sprint race start in front, and the competitors have to “pursue” the leaders. The goal is to be the first to cross the finish line. There are four shooting segments with five targets each, and missed targets result in a 150m penalty loop.
  • Mass start (men’s 15km, women’s 12.5 km) – Competitors start simultaneously, and the first to cross the finish line wins. There are four shooting segments and each missed shot results in a 150m penalty loop
  • Relay (men’s 4×7.5 km, women’s 4x6km) – The first member of each relay team begins simultaneously. Each competitor has two shooting segments, and they get three additional rounds – manually loaded – if they miss a target. If they still have misses, they must do the 150m penalty loop for each missed target.
  • Mixed relay (2.6km women + 2×7.5 men) – The women run the first first two legs of the relay, going 6km each, while the men run 7.5km. Each athlete has two shooting portions, and get three additional rounds.

In the video below, veteran coach Kris Cheney Seymour talks about how an athlete’s heart rate and shooting position come into play during a biathlon race, and how both factors could make the difference at the end of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics:

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