A measure of where biathlon has its greatest popularity lies in the extent to which the sport is covered by mass media: nations where biathlon events are regularly shown on TV include Germany (ARD, ZDF), Norway (NRK), Finland (YLE), Russia (RTR ), Belarus (TVR ), and Slovenia (RTV ). Also, the constellation of a sport's main sponsors usually gives a similar indication: for biathlon, these are the German companies E.ON Ruhrgas AG, incl. Erdgas (natural gas energy), Krombacher (brewery), and Viessmann (heating technology, e.g. boilers).
The sport has its origins in an exercise for Norwegian soldiers. The first known competition took place in 1767 when border patrol companies competed against each other. Gradually the sport became more common throughout Scandinavia as an alternative training for the military. Called military patrol, the combination of skiing and shooting was demonstrated at the Olympic Winter Games in 1924, 1928, 1936 and 1948, but did not gain Olympic recognition then, as the small number of competing countries disagreed on the rules (see also Governing body, below).
In 1948, the Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne et Biathlon (UIPMB) was founded, to standardise the rules for biathlon and pentathlon. In 1993, the biathlon branch of the UIPMB created the International Biathlon Union (IBU), which officially separated from the UIPMB in 1998.
Presidents of the UIPMB/IBU (possibly incomplete):
- Tom Wiborn , Sweden 1948–1949
- Gustaf Dyrssen , Sweden, 1949–1960
- Sven Thofelt , Sweden, 1960–19??
- possibly some presidents missing, 19??–1988
- Igor Novikov , USSR/Russia, 1988–1992
- Anders Besseberg , Norway, 1992–present
The following articles list major international biathlon events and medalists. Contrary to the Olympics and World Championships (BWCH), the World Cup (BWC) is an entire winter season of (mostly) weekly races, where the medalists are those with the highest sums of World Cup points at the end of the season.
For complete rules, see the IBU Rule book . However, the concise rules given below should be enough for a spectator to understand what is going on at a biathlon stadium whether actually being there or at home watching a televised biathlon event.
All skiing techniques are permitted in biathlon, but no other equipment than skis and ski poles may be used. Minimal length of the skis is the height of the skier less 4 cm.
The biathlete carries the 3.5 kg rifle including ammunition in magazines on her/his back during the race. The rifles used are 5.6 mm (.22) caliber and are not automatic or semi-automatic; loading must be done manually by the biathlete.
The target range shooting distance is 50 m. Prone shooting target diameter is 45 mm, standing is 115 mm. The five targets are self-indicating, in that they flip from black to white when hit, giving the biathlete instant visual feedback for each shot fired.
In the sprint, held over 10 km (7.5 km for women), the biathlete shoots twice (10 shots), once prone, once standing. For each miss, a penalty loop of 150 m has to be completed before the race can be continued. The biathletes start in intervals (normally of 30 seconds, sometimes shortened to 20 seconds in between starters).
In the pursuit, the biathletes start with the time difference between them from a previous race, often a sprint. Therefore, the contestant crossing the finish line first becomes the winner. The distance is 12.5 km (10 km for women), and there are four shooting rounds (2 prone, 2 standing), and each miss means a penalty loop of 150 m.
In the mass start, all biathletes start at the same time, which limits the maximum number of competitors. In 15 km (or 12.5 km for women), there's four rounds of shooting, twice standing, twice prone. Extra time is added for each missed target.
The 20 km individual race (15 km for women) is the oldest biathlon event. The biathlete shoots four times, in the order of prone, standing, prone, standing, totalling 20 targets. For each missed target a fixed penalty time, usually one minute, is added to the skiing time of the biathlete. As in the sprint competition, the biathletes start in intervals.
Teams consist of four biathletes, who each ski 7.5 km (both men and women), with two shooting rounds (one prone, one standing). For every round of five targets there are eight bullets available, though the last three can only be loaded one at a time from trays at the shooting range. If after eight bullets there are still misses, one 150 m penalty loop must be taken for each miss. The first-leg participants start all at the same time, and as in cross-country skiing relays, every athlete of a team must touch the team's next-leg participant to perform a valid exchange.
A team consists of four biathletes, and all start at the same time. Two athletes must shoot in the prone shooting round, the other two in the standing round. In case of a miss, the two non-shooting biathletes must ski a penalty loop of 150 m. The skiers must enter the shooting area together, and must also finish within 15 seconds of each other, otherwise a time penalty of 1 minute is added to the total time.
World Cup events and World Championships in biathlon have traditionally been held at the following relatively few locations (due to the complicated shooting range equipment, which absolutely has to work in order to hold successful races, biathlon is a highly demanding sport for organisers):
|Country||Major biathlon venues|
|Italy:||Antholz-Anterselva||Cesana San Sicario|
|USA:||Fort Kent, ME||Lake Placid, NY||Soldier Hollow , UT|
Two common variations on biathlon are summer biathlon, where skiing is replaced by a cross-country run, and archery biathlon, where the rifle is replaced by a longbow. There have also been (unofficial?) summer competitions in roller-ski biathlon.
- Skiing and skiing topics
- Duathlon, Triathlon, Pentathlon, Heptathlon, Decathlon (non-winter sports, totally unrelated to biathlon)
- Official IBU website (in cooperation with the EBU; with race statistics, TV schedules, etc)
- U.S. Biathlon Association