As you prepare to watch NBC Olympics coverage of biathlon at the Sochi Games, here is a quick explanation of the different events and equipment that will be in play.
In biathlon, athletes ski distances ranging from 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) to 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) and stop at the shooting range two or four times, depending on the competition. Classical and freestyle (skating) skiing techniques are allowed at any time, with the faster freestyle technique being the more common.
The shooting range is located next to the spectator seating area at the biathlon stadium. Biathletes shoot from individual lanes at a horizontal, five-target board 50 meters away. Target diameters are 45 millimeters for prone and 115 millimeters for standing in all events.
Embedded video_content_type: Focusing on the target
In addition to the course loop, there is a 150-meter penalty loop located at the end of the range, near the beginning of the next course loop. Biathletes must ski one penalty loop for every shooting miss in four of the five events.
Individual: A classical style biathlon race covering 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) for men and 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) for women, with four shooting lanes. Biathletes start at intervals of either 30 seconds or one minute with each competitor choosing his or 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.
Sprint: An abbreviated version of the individual competition and one in which speed is a key factor. Men race 10 kilometers (6.2 miles), and women 7.5 kilometers (4.6 miles), each with two shooting rounds - one prone and one standing. For every missed target, a competitor must complete a 150-meter penalty loop.
Pursuit: Athletes start in a staggered fashion depending on their time in the sprint race. Men ski 12.5 kilometers (7.7 miles) and women ski 10 kilometers (6.2 miles). 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.
Mass Start: This is one of the newest biathlon formats. It covers a distance of 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) for men and 12.5 kilometers (7.7 miles) 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.
Relay: This consists of four-person national teams covering distances of 7.5 kilometers (4.6 miles) for men and 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) 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 eight 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 eight rounds have been fired, the athlete must ski a 150-meter penalty loop for each missed target.
Mixed Relay: This is the most recent addition to the Olympic program. The mixed relay is similar to the standard relay except for the composition of the teams, each of which consists of two women and two men. Legs 1 and 2 are completed by the women, legs 3 and 4 by the men. The women's legs are 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) and men's legs are 7.5 kilometers (4.6 miles). The shooting elements are the same as in the standard relay.
- Ski boots, providing support and controlling motion.
- Ski poles made of composite materials such as carbon-fiber. Their length cannot exceed the height of the athlete using them.
- The biathlon rifle is a .22 caliber weapon, with bolt or lever action, 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.
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