Biathlon is a Winter Olympic sport that combines the two opposing disciplines of cross-country skiing and precision target shooting. Often compared to running 100 metres and then trying to thread a needle, or going from a rabbit to a rock in a matter of seconds, Biathlon combines the physical endurance required for cross country skiing with the mental poise needed to shoot accurately over 50 metres - while the clock is still running.
Participants ski a designated ski loop and then ski into the range to fire five shots at five targets in either a standing or prone (lying down) position. For every shot missed the participant is penalised. Depending on the type of race, the penalty could be in the form of skiing an extra penalty loop, or having an extra minute added to their time. The participant then skis and shoots again, repeating this sequence until the required number of ski legs and shooting bouts are completed.
Biathlon is an exciting sport that challenges participants not only to develop the fitness and coordination needed for cross-country skiing, but also the mental focus and concentration required to shoot accurately under pressure. Biathlon also teaches people how to use rifles in a safe and non-confronting manner - a point that is emphasised heavily in the sport. And all this comes on top of the fact that Biathlon is a lot of fun!
Biathlon is now growing faster than any other time in its history. Biathlon is unlike any other sport and because it is so unique and so challenging it is attracting participants of all ages and abilities. Participants enjoy it because the event itself is exhilarating and spectators love it because it is exciting to watch.
In addition to being a Winter Olympic sport, there is an annual World Cup series in Biathlon with events being held in Europe, Asia and North America . There is also a Biathlon World Championships held in every northern hemisphere winter except for Olympic years. Athletes who excel at Biathlon are quite amazing because they possess a diverse range of skills that no other sport requires - the endurance, speed, strength and coordination needed for cross-country skiing and the concentration, focus, accuracy and split second timing needed for accurate and fast target shooting. This combination of skills and the nature of a Biathlon event makes Biathlon an extremely exciting sport to watch. For this reason Biathlon is one of the most widely watched winter sports in Europe . Australia regularly send athletes to compete at World Cup, World Championship and Olympic level.
There is a relatively new warm weather variant of conventional Biathlon that is becoming increasingly popular. Summer Biathlon, for which there is now a World Championships, mimics conventional Biathlon but replaces the skiing component with running, roller skiing/roller blading, cycling or wheelchair racing. These events are particularly popular in summer-oriented Australia and have resulted in tremendous growth in the sport. Summer Biathlon was originally developed as a training tool for winter athletes but has now evolved into a mainstream aspect of the sport. There is now even talk that Summer Biathlon may be included in the Summer Olympic Games. A Summer Biathlon event can be run anywhere in Australia which means Biathlon is no longer limited to Australia's snow covered regions.
In Australia many of our snowfields were previously off limits to Biathlon because they are situated in National Parks where firearms are prohibited by law. Because of this environmentally sensitive issue the ABA has a number of Laser training rifles that are used for training and promotional events and used often in the Lake Mountain ski area.
The typical race format for a Biathlon event sees a participant start by completing a designated ski loop and then entering the range to fire five shots at five targets. For every missed shot the participant is penalised either by having to ski a 1 50m penalty loop for every missed shot as they exit the range, or by having a one-minute penalty added to their time for each missed shot. The participant then exits the range area and completes another ski loop. All this occurs while the clock is still running - the participant is timed from beginning to end and the clock is not stopped while the competitor is in the shooting range. This means that the participant must shoot as fast as they can while maintaining accuracy. Top athletes usually have range times of around 25 seconds. Exactly how many ski loops and shooting bouts are required and what sort of penalty is applied for missed shots depends on the format of the event.
The various Biathlon event formats are explained below. The course lengths in these descriptions are for international standard events. These lengths are modified in Australia for different age categories.
In Summer Biathlon the events are generally designed to closely mimic the conventional Winter Biathlon formats, although they are often modified to suit the modality, terrain and the skill level of the participants. Summer Biathlon events are often designed creatively to ensure maximum fun for participants.
Individual Competition or Distance Event
The individual race, or the "distance event" as it is known in Australia , is the oldest competition discipline in Biathlon. In this event participants must ski a total of five ski legs and complete four shooting bouts, alternating between prone shooting and standing shooting each time they enter the range. Participants start at 1 minute or 30 second intervals and men ski a total of 20km while the women's race is 15km long. For every shot missed during shooting in this race format the participant has one minute added to their time. Thus, if a participant fails to hit any targets, they will be awarded a 20 minute time penalty. Conversely, if they hit all of their targets, only the time taken for them to complete all of their skiing and shooting will be their final race time. For the 20 km circuit top athletes requires around 55 minutes to complete the course and will generally finish the race with none or only one shooting penalty. It usually takes women around 45 minutes to complete their 15 km course and the top women biathletes will display the same outstanding shooting results.
In the sprint competition participants are required to complete three ski legs and two shooting bouts. Participants shoot in the prone position in their first shooting bout and standing in their second. The men race over a total distance of 10km while the women's course is 7.5km long. Once again participants start at 30 second or 1 minute intervals. In contrast to the individual competition, the participant must ski a 1 50m penalty loop for every missed shot upon exiting the range (no time penalty applies). The penalty loop generally takes around 25 - 30 seconds to complete. Therefore the penalty for missing targets is not as severe as it is in an individual competition. Therefore shooting tends to be faster and more risky because participants have a chance to catch up the missed shots in the handicap loop. Therefore sprint races tend to be very lively and exciting. Top male athletes generally take around 25 minutes to complete the course, while top female athletes take around 23 minutes.
The most exiting and most watched discipline is the relay competition. In this event a team is made up of 4 biathletes, each of whom must ski a total 7.5 km (for both men and women) with three ski legs and two shooting bouts. Therefore the team covers a total distance of 30km. In international competition each nation will enter a team in the relay event.
In this event there is an impressive mass start by all the first skiers in the respective teams. Up to the first shooting bout after 2.5 km of skiing, the race is skied very tactically. The field usually arrives en masse at the firing range, where the competitors fire on the lane corresponding to their start number. Unlike the individual competition, each Biathlete has 8 rounds of ammunition for S targets. The first 5 of these rounds are loaded from the magazine. lthe 3 reserve rounds are piaced at the firing point and, if needed, must be loaded one-by-one. If all the targets are hit with the first 5 rounds, the athlete can immediately continue to ski without completing a handicap loop. If not, the athlete must continue firing until he has either hit all 5 targets or fired all 8 rounds. If they have still not hit all 5 targets the athlete must then cover a 1 50m handicap loop for each missed target.
After completing their 7.5km and two shooting bouts, the athlete hands over to the next athlete by pathng them on the back in the handover zone. The best teams need about 1 hour 20 minutes to cover the 30 km. The winner is the team who's last athlete crosses the finish line first.
In a team competition each team consists of four biathletes who must ski together throughout the race as a cohesive group. Much like a sprint event, the team will ski a total of 10km for men and 7.5km for women and complete two shooting bouts. The teams start at 1 minute intervals. The skiing order within the team is an internal decision. One team may only be overtaken by another as a closed-up formation. Similarly, after each lap the team must reach the shooting range as a cohesive group.
In each shooting bout two athletes from each team fire at the same time with each person firing five rounds each. The two biathletes who are shooting ski to free lanes while the other two continue past the range and enter a special area ahead of the handicap loop where they wait for their team mates. In the first shooting bout the first two biathlete will fire prone, and then in the next shooting bout the remaining two athletes will fire standing. If their team mates hit all 5 targets, the team reforms and continues skiing without completing penalty laps. However, if one or more targets are missed in total, the two shooting athlete must ski a 1 50m penalty loop together for each missed shot. Therefore, if one athlete shoots clean and the other athlete shoots misses two shots, they both must ski two penalty loops together.
As a result of the 2 firing sessions and the subsequent greater risk of handicap loops, the team placings change very often throughout the race. Upon completion of the race the team must cross the finishing line within 15 seconds of each other or they will be awarded a 1 minute penalty. The team stands or falls on team work and team spirit.
The pursuit competition is a relatively new event that has been included in World Championships and World Cup events since the 1996/97 season. The pursuit race was first included in the Australian Championships in 1998.
In a pursuit race the start order is determined by the placings in the previous sprint competition. The winner of the sprint competition will start first. The second placegetter follows at a time interval that is equal to the time that he was behind the winner of the sprint event. This is followed down the list with up to 60 participants being allowed to take part in a World Cup event and only 45 being allowed to take part in World Championships. In World Cup and World Championship events, as with the Australian Championships, medals are awarded for both the sprint and pursuit competitions.
In a pursuit race men ski a total distance of 12.5km and women ski a total distance of 10 km. Each participant shoots four times. They shoot in the prone position for the first two bouts and in the standing position for the second two bouts. For each target missed the participant must ski a 1 50m penalty loop. This order of shooting different to other Biathlon competitions - makes the competition more exciting because it allows athletes who are good marksmen in the prone position to take the lead often only to have the lead change during standing shooting. Spectators can easily follow this exciting competition because the first person to cross the finish line wins the event. Therefore spectators can see where athletes are placed throughout the race. With 60 starting athletes, the pursuit race takes around 30 minutes and is therefore very popular on television. It is a very exciting competition because the leaders often change place and often come into the shooting range at the same time.
The pursuit competition was included in the Winter Olympic Games for the first time at Salt Lake City 2002.
Mass Start Competition
With a simultaneous start by all of the competitors, the mass start offers the ultimate in excitement and suspense for spectators. The format of the mass start is similar to the individual event except the distances are shorter and shooting follows the sequence of prone, prone, standing, standing. Normal participation is limited to 30, which is the minimum number of targets required for a World Cup event.
Participation in the Mass Start is based on the top rankings of the current World Cup total core, and in the case of the World Championships also on the three medallists of the individual, sprint and pursuit competitions. If competitors are lapped in the competition, they must withdraw immediately.
The Biathlon Course and Shooting Range
A Biathlon course consists of a network of cross-country ski trails which are connected to a Biathlon range. The trails form loops of varying lengths up to 5km which start and finish at the range. The range itself consists of a series of shooting lanes with sets of five targets at 50 metres. Shooting ranges come in all shapes and sizes and may have up to 27 lanes in international competitions. Certain lanes will be allocated for standing shooting and certain lanes will be allocated for prone. There will also be a 150m penalty loop lurking nearby for those participants who do not hit all five targets. Strict safety rules are enforced on a biathlon range to ensure there is no danger at any time.
In a Summer Biathlon event the course could consist of bitumen trails or dirt tracks, depending on the type of event that is being conducted. Due to their nature Summer Biathlon events can be conducted almost anywhere and the tracks that are used can be designed very creatively. When the laser biathlon system is used the shooting area can also be set up anywhere, although a discrete location is usually preferred.
Conventional Biathlon requires the use of cross-country ski equipment and an accurate .22 calibre rimfire rifle. In addition, if you are doing Summer Biathlon you may need to use rollerskis, rollerblades, bicycles, running shoes or a wheelchair. If you are participating in a laser biathlon event you will need to use the Faezor biathlon system. Most people know about rollerblades, bicycles, running shoes and wheelchairs, so this page provides brief descriptions of the equipment that is not so well known and is more specific to Biathlon. It also points you in the right direction to find out more information. The Faezor biathlon system has its own separate description.
Skis and Poles
Biathlon races are freestyle which means the participant can choose between classic or skating technique. All elite racers use skating technique because it is faster but some beginners and traditionalists prefer to use classic technique.
In Biathlon the minimum ski length is the participant s height minus 4cm and the poles can be no taller than the athlete. For more info rmation on the rules relating to ski and poles specifications see the IBU rules.
There are many ski and pole manufacturers around the world and many agents who import skis and poles into Australia. Some of the most popular manufacturers are:
Rollerskis are used in Summer Biathlon events as well as in training for Winter Biathlon. Rollerskiing is the closest dry-land approximation to cross-country skiing. Rollerskis consist of rectangular aluminium tubing approximately 50cm in length with a wheel at either end. The wheels themselves are sometimes quite wide (4-5cm) and made specifically for rollerskiing and some use rollerblade wheels. Some rollerskis have rachets in their back wheels so that (they cannot go backwards and can therefore be used for classic skiing.
A number of rollerski manufacturers are:
i-giliti Rollerskis: www.i-giliti.com
Biathlon Rifles and Ammunition
The standard Biathlon rifle is a .22 calibre bolt-action rifle with non-optical sights. Automatic or semi automatic rifles cannot be used and magnified sights are also not allowed. Biathletes need to fire five shots at a time so Biathlon rifles come with five shot magazines. While Biathlon rifles are very similar to conventional target rifles they are adapted especially for the unique requirements of the sport. Differences between conventional target rifles and biathlon rifles include:
• snow covers on the rear sights and end of the barrel (to keep falling snow out);
• a rail for attaching a carrying harness (so participants can carry the rifle on their back);
• magazine holders (a participant needs to carry up to four 5 shot magazines); and
• a speed sling with the biathlete wearing an arm band (to enable fast transition between skiing and shooting).
The newest designs of Biathlon rifles use "straight through" bolt actions. This means that instead of requiring the bolt to be moved up, back, forward, down, it is simply moved forward and back. This minimises disruption while reloading the rifles and is also faster than conventional bolt action.
The International Biathlon Union rules specify certain parameters that Biathlon rifles must meet. These include a minimum rifle weight of 3.5kg, a minimum trigger weight of O.5kg, and 0.22 calibre cartridges must be used (40 grain bullet and muzzle velocity not exceeding 380 metres/second). For the full specifications, see the TBU rules.
There are many manufacturers of Biathlon rifles and ammunition around the world. Some of the most popular are:
• Anschutz: http://www.anschuetz-sport.com/
• Vostok: http://www.armament.com/
• KG Larsen: http://www.kg-larsen.no/
Biathlon uses metal drop down targets. Each target has a white rectangular face plate with 5 target apertures. Behind each aperture is a back falling plate. There is no scoring in Biathlon - you either hit or miss. When a target is hit the black falling plate falls away and a white paddle rises to cover the target, indicating that it has been hit. When a participant has finished their five shots the amount of targets remaining black indicates the amount of penalties they are awarded. All five targets can easily be reset with the pull of a spring by a range official.
The targets for standing are 115mm in diameter and 45mm for prone. Each target can be set on either standing or prone by adjusting either the size of the face plate or the size of the falling plate that can fall away. When viewed from 50 metres the size of the aiming mark appears the same whether the targets are set on standing or prone the participant always aims at a black aperture mark that is 115mm in diameter but when shooting prone they must be more accurate to record a hit.
There are now electronic versions of the metal Biathlon target that are used in international events. While they look the same as manual targets from a distance, these targets record hits electronically through a magnetic, motion or impact sensor at the target. Electronic targets are controlled remotely with electrically powered servo-motors and visual hit indication normally occurs with a mechanically or electronically activated indicator disk. For details of the technical specifications, see the IBU rules.
One manufacturer of Biathlon targets can be found at http://www.biathlontargets.com/.
Here are some common Biathlon terms that you will hear from time to time:
Clean Shooting: Hitting all five targets in one shooting bout.
Clicks: Sight adjustments for wind and sun angle are made by moving the rear apertures in different directions. The amount of change is measured by clicks turned. The coach at the range may assist the athletes arriving to shoot or in zeroing by calling out sight corrections, such as "three clicks to the right".
Declared Rounds: In relay events 8 bullets are carried in each clip. Upon entering the range, the biathlete must deposit the extra three rounds in a cup at the shooting point before commencing to shoot. The five rounds from the clip are used to hit five targets, if more rounds are needed, the extra, declared rounds may then be hand loaded and used.
Harness: Backpack-like shoulder straps used for carrying the rifle on the back.
Prone: A lying down position used for shooting.
Penalty loop: A 150m penalty loop located near the range which must be skied for once for every missed shot in a sprint, pursuit, relay or team competition.
Skating technique: The technique most often used while skiing in a Biathlon race. The movement is much like an ice-skater whereby the biathlete moves from the right to left direction gliding out onto the right leg and then onto the left leg. No ski tracks are used unlike classic technique, where the skier is propelled straight down the trail in a running-like motion.
Snow Flaps: The caps covering the rifle muzzle and rear sights to prevent snow from entering the rifle. The snow flaps must be lifted before the participant shoots.
Magazine: Used to hold five .22 calibre rifle cartridges. Up to four clips can be stored in the rifle stock while the biathlete is skiing, the course. When at the range the clips are taken from the stock and inserted into the rifle as needed.
Sling: A belt or webbing used in prone shooting that hooks into an arm band to stabilize the rifle.
Zeroing: The time spent before a race (usually 45 minutes)-where the participant shoots at paper targets and adjusts the sights in order to align the rifle. When zeroed, the rifle is accurate for the particular wind and light conditions on the range at that time.
History of Biathlon Worldwide
Events and Organisation
Biathlon has a long and detailed history. The Biathlon concept evolved from two sources - hunters in cold climates who pursued their prey on skis and military regiments in Europe and Scandinavia that patrolled their country's snow-covered borders on skis. The first organised events took place on the border of Norway and Sweden in 1776 between "ski-runner" companies guarding the border. In 1861 the first Biathon club was established in Trysil, Norway and was called the Trysil Rifle and Ski Club.
The first involvement of Biathlon in the Olympics took place in 1924 where the military patrol was included as a demonstration sport at the first Winter Olympic Games in Chamonix, France. In Sandhurst, England on the 3~ August 1948 the Union International de Pentathlon Morderne et Biathlon (UIPMB) was formed as the governing body of Biathlon and modern pentathlon with 17 member federations.
On March 2n~ 1958 the first ever Biathlon World Championships were held in Saalfeldon, Austria and in 1960 Biathlon was included for the first time in the Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, USA. Women were not included in World Championship events until 1984 where the first women's World Championships were held in Chamonix, France. Women were included in the Olympics for the first time at the Albertville Games in 1992.
On July 2nd 1993 the International Biathlon Union was founded as the governing body for Biathlon worldwide and is still the international governing body today.
The Biathlon Event
The Biathlon event itself has also evolved significantly over this time. Originally participants used full-bore rifles and four different shooting ranges were incorporated into the 20km event, each with different distances so athletes were always having to recalibrate their sights. In 1966 this was changed so that only a single 150m full-bore range was used. The penalty system adopted was a little different too - paper targets were used which were divided into two circles. A one-minute penalty was awarded for hits in the outer circle while a two-minute penalty was awarded for complete misses. In relay competitions breakable targets were used - round pieces of white coloured glass that shattered when shot. In 1978 small-bore rifles became the official competition rifle as it is today. In the same year the shooting range was reduced to 50m in length and the targets were scaled down to a 12cm circle for standing and a 4cm circle for prone (today they are 11.5cm and 4.5 cm respectively) and the two minute penalty was eliminated. In addition mechanical falling plate targets were used for the first time in Hochfilzen, Austria and for the first time in the Olympics at Lake Placid in 1980. Electronic targets were used for the first time in 1989 at a World Cup in Feistritz, Austria.
The Biathlon event itself has historically taken the form of individual races and that format was the sole event at the first World Championships (1958) and first Winter Olympics that included Biathlon (1960~. In 1966 the relay was included in the World Championships for the first time in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, France and was included in the Olympic for the first time at Grenoble, France in 1968. The sprint competition was first included in the World Championships in Minsk, Russia in 1974 and in the Winter Olympics in 1980 at Lake Placid, USA. The team event was included in the 1980 World Championships in Fiestritz, Austria. In 1997 the pursuit competition was included in the World Championships in Osrblie, Slovakia and the mass start event was included in the World Cup final in Novosibirsk, Russia.
In 1996 the first Summer Biathlon World Championships was held in Hochfilzen, Austria.
History of Biathlon in Australia
Biathlon first came to Australia in 1977 with the first events being held at Mt Sterling, this was also the place of the first Victorian Championships which was won by Bob Cranage using a 1942 Lee Enfield 303 rifle converted with a .22 Cal sleeve. By 1980, all events were being held at Whiskey Flat, Mt Hotham, where Australia's only traditional Biathlon range is situated today. The Australian Championships distance event was first run in 1981 and was won by Bob Cranage. Some of the names of the first biathletes are Barry Field, Bob Cranage, Andrew Paul, Mike Lillycrap, Linus Kaspurinus. Following changes in Policy and National Parks status, Biathlon activities were shifted to Mt Hotham and Whisky Flat on the Omeo side of the mountain. These events have been run at Whiskey Flat ever since.
Australia sent its first team overseas in 1978 and they competed in the World Cup at Antholz Italy, followed by the World Championships of the same year at Hochfilzen Austria. The team consisted of Bob Cranage, Andrew Paul and Bob Anderson. Ever since then Australia has been sending teams to compete at World Cup and World Championship level. Some of the people to represent Australia at these events have been Bob Cranage, Lori Jortikka, Paul L'Hullier, Barry Field, Mike Lillycrap, Paul Gray, LynnMaree Cranage, Justin McFarlane, Matt Alexander, Andrew Paul, Sandra Patin-Paul, Kerryn Rim, Craig Cross, Lindsay Bridgeford, Cam Morton, Mark Raymond,
Australians at the Olympics
The first Australian to compete at the Olympics was Andrew Paul who was Australia's sole biathlete at the 1984 Olympics. He competed again in 1988 at Calgary, Canada. In 1992 and 1994 Australia was represented by Sandra Paul and Kerryn Rim at Albertville, France and Lillehamer, Norway respectively. It was in the 1994 Olympics in Lillehamer that Kerryn Rim achieved that outstanding result of 8th place in the women's individual event. Kerry Rim again represented Australia at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan. With Cam Morton representing Australia at the 2006 Torino Olympics.
Biathlon in NSW
The advent of laser biathlon allowed the first ever Biathlon events to be run in NSW in 2001. Because all other NSW ski fields are located in National Parks no firearms have been allowed and hence no Biathlon competitions have been possible. However, the development of laser biathlon overcame this difficulty and in 2000 approval was obtained from the NSW Parks & Wildlife Service to run laser Biathlon events at Perisher, NSW.
Summer Biathlon events have been held throughout Australia's Biathlon history, both as training events and as local competitions. Summer Biathlon took off significantly in 2000 and 2001 as laser biathlon allowed events to be run virtually anywhere around Australia. In 2001/2002 the AVBA saw the first ever Australian Summer Biathlon Championships as well as State Summer Biathlon Championships in both Victoria and NSW/ACT.
The Australian Biathlon Association Inc.
The Australian/Victorian Biathlon Association (AVBA Inc) was established in 1979 to manage the sport in both Victoria and in Australia. As Biathlon was centered in Victoria only one organization was needed to manage the sport both at a state and national level. With the development of Laser Biathlon Activities in NSW the National Federation still manages events in Victoria only. The NSW/ACT Biathlon Association (NABA) still maintain their own management structure and autonomy. This is how the facets of the sport continue to be managed today.
Locations of Winter Biathlon
The only certified Biathlon range in Australia is situated at Whiskey Flat, Mt Hotham, Victoria. There is a twelve lane Biathlon range at Whiskey Flat which forms the epicentre of Biathlon in Australia. The first ever Biathlon events in Australia were held at Mt Hotham and the Whiskey Flat range has played host to the Victorian and Australian Championships for almost 20 years. The high standard range combined with the first-class ski trails and grooming provided at Mt Hotham make Whiskey Flat an ideal location to conduct Biathlon events. The facilities at Mt Hotham are used regularly by Australia's premier elite athletes, and have been the training focus for many of our past Olympians, including Australia 's most successful Olympic Biathlete Kerryn Rim. In addition to being used by elite athletes, the Whiskey Flat range is also used by people of all abilities for various events, training and enjoyment.