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Rules and Requirements for Olympic Biathlon

Sochi Olympics Will Host the Compelling Sport That Blends Cross-Country Skiing and Rifle Shooting

Yahoo Contributor Network

The 22nd Winter Olympics are scheduled to open on February 6, 2014, in the Black Sea town of Sochi, Russia.

The Winter Games will showcase 15 different sports, with numerous individual events scheduled for every day of competition. The Olympics will last through February 22.

One of the more anticipated pursuits of the Sochi Games will be the throwback sport of biathlon. Combining the athletic skill of cross-country skiing with precise rifle shooting at targets, this event sometimes feels like it derives straight out of a James Bond film.

In truth, biathlon possesses a much richer tradition than a Hollywood spy movie, as it traces its roots to the hunting habits of the rugged climates of northern Europe. The fascinating activity began as a demonstration sport in early Olympics, but achieved full medal status by 1960. Events have since been gradually expanded, and Sochi will witness biathlon scattered over 11 days of competition.

So fans can better appreciate this unique sport during the forthcoming Winter Games, here is a look at five general rules for biathlon:

1. Types of Races: With 11 distinct events scheduled in biathlon during the Sochi Games, this unique sport will take many different forms while viewers keenly observe from around the world. The style of each race depends on format, in which diverse requirements are set for the amount of skiing and the amount of shooting, as well as the style of starts.

Races are classified as individual, sprint, pursuit, mass start, and relay. Each format involves a different length, meaning the set of laps skied around the course is adjusted. Winners for individual and sprint races are decided by fastest overall time, so the clock is the true challenger for a participant. Other events, however, involve staggered or simultaneous starts and the first to cross the finish line is the one who takes gold.

2. Method of Skiing: Biathletes use the demanding chore of cross-country skiing to travel throughout a generally level, challenging course. Requiring horsepower from many muscle groups of the body, long and narrow skis provide maximum speed by gliding across the terrain. Though all cross-country techniques are permitted, freestyle is typically preferred in biathlon, where one leg is lifted as the other one is pushed forward. Participants can additionally use ski poles in each hand to better trek atop the snow and wax may be critically rubbed onto the skis to reduce the potential for friction.

3. Biathlon Shooting: While skiing, a small bore .22 caliber rifle is strapped to the competitors' backs in preparation for shooting bouts throughout the course. These stoppage points have individual lanes for athletes and each provides five targets needing to be struck. When a target is properly hit by the .22-caliber cartridges, it changes in color from black to white. Once again, the amount of shooting depends on the style of race, and either two or four bouts (for a total of 10 or 20 targets) are required during a race. Shooters alternate between the prone and standing position and penalties exist for missed targets.

4. Three Forms of Penalties: Biathlon rules mandate penalties for missing targets and there are three distinct punitive measures for inaccurate shooters. The most common penalty is the skiing of an added 150-meter loop for each missed target immediately after attempting five shots. This not only slows down a participant's progress by adding more skiing to the course, but it also blends the two distinct skills that comprise biathlon. Another method for penalizing missed shots occurs in individual races, where an extra minute is added onto the biathlete's total time for each miss. Lastly, relay races allow the use of additional ammunition in order to attempt up to three additional tries at a target. While this avoids extra skiing or added time, the individual loading of extra cartridges substantially slows progress.

5. Relay Rules: With the addition of a mixed event for the first time, the Sochi Games will feature three relay races, including a men's 4 x 7.5-km event, a women's 4 x 6-km event, and a mixed gender team race. All relays require participants to handle 3 laps of skiing and 2 shooting bouts. In the mixed event, two men and two women form a team and each gender skies the corresponding distance to their single-sex event. In all forms of relay events, teammates must touch hands in the handover zone for the next turn to begin. The first team to conclude the runs of all four members is declared the winner.

Jeff Briscoe is a longtime fan of Olympic competition and a regular contributor to the Yahoo Contributor Network. He will be talking Sochi 2014 on The Sports Train radio show in Southwest Florida.

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