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Everything You Need to Know About Biathlon

 How It Works
 1994 Golds
 How It Works
 Critical Moment
 U.S. Outlook
 Others to Watch
 Looking Back at Lillehammer

Venue: Nozawa Onsen, a town of 5,000 famous for its hot springs and which claims to be the birthplace of Japanese skiing, will play host to the biathlon events at the Nagano Games. Two 4km trails (A and B) will be laid out near the grandstand, which will be near the shooting range. The trails will meander through a relatively small area measuring about 1 square kilometer. Trail A will have a difference in elevation of 78 meters, and trail B a difference of 62 meters. Both trails will be 7 meters wide.

1994 Golds: Sergei Tchepikov and Sergei Tarassov of Russia won the 10km race and the 20km race respectively, and the German team won the relay. Myriam Bedard of Canada won both women's individual events, becoming the first athlete from North America to win an Olympic biathlon event. The Russia women won the relay.

How It Works: The biathlon combines cross-country skiing with .22-caliber rifle shooting from both the standing and prone positions.

Competitors get five shots to score five hits. For each miss, they are penalized, either by time added (in the men's 20k and women's 15k) or by having to ski a penalty loop (in the sprints and relays). The relay competition is the most exciting discipline. Each team is made up of four biathletes (three for the women's event), who each have to ski 7.5k, stopping twice on the course to shoot — once prone and once standing.

Critical Moment: Switching from high-powered cross-country skiing to exacting marksmanship requires strength and control. The objective is to ski at high speed yet reserve enough energy to hit five targets at rifle range as fast as possible.
KRT Graphic
 (1.) Skiing: Athlete heads toward range with a pulse that can reach 150 beats per minute, slows pace approaching range.
 (2.) Shooting: Athlete enters firing range, unslings rifle and tries to catch breath for 1 or 2 seconds; shoots five rounds.
 (3.) Skiing again: Athlete re-slings rifle, leaves range.

History: The word biathlon comes from Greek and means "two contests," in this case cross-country skiing and rifle shooting. Like many modern sports, the biathlon has its origins in the distant past. Rock-paintings dating back to the Neolithic age (about 3000 B.C.) show hunters with bow and arrow moving on sliding timber. In Northern Europe, hunting on skis was well known, as in Northern Asia and North America. In China, "winged horses" on the feet were employed to track wildlife in snow-covered regions. In the Middle Ages, the military aspect of shooting on skis came into the foreground, and the traditional patrol race came into being (preventing today's biathlon from becoming a pure sporting event for quite some time). Since the end of the 19th century, soldiers on skis were found in Scandinavia, Russia, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. In 1776, in Norway, the first biathlon competitions were organized; the competitors fired rifles while racing ahead.

The first Olympic Winter Games in Chamonix, France, included a ski patrol race. It was a demonstration sport then, and also in 1928, 1936 and 1948. It was not until 1949, however, that Sweden's proposal to include a combination of cross-country skiing and shooting in the Olympic program as an individual competition open to civilian competitors was approved. The first Olympic competition was held in 1960 in Squaw Valley, Calif., but only in the men's 20k. A men's 4x7.5km relay was added in 1968, and a men's 10km was added in 1980.

The first women's World Cup was held in 1984 and biathlon made its first Olympic appearance in 1992. The development of the sport for women was pioneered by American Holly Beattie-Farr, who showed up at the U.S. Olympic trials in 1979 and expressed her interest in the sport. The U.S. team allowed Beattie-Farr to compete, and although she didn't make the team, the movement to establish women's biathlon was under way. Anfissa Reztsova of the Unified Team won the sport's first gold medal in the 7.5km event.

Biathlon is one of three sports in which the United States never has won an Olympic medal (luge and nordic combined are the others). The best U.S. individual performance at the Olympics is the 14th-place showing by John Burritt in the 20km at the 1960 Games and Peter Karns in the 20km at the 1972 Games.

DateEventTime (ET)
Monday, Feb. 9 Women's 15k 11 p.m. (Feb. 8)
Wednesday, Feb. 11 Men's 20k 11 p.m. (Feb. 10)
Sunday, Feb. 15 Women's 7.5k 11 p.m. (Feb. 14)
Tuesday, Feb. 17 Men's 10k 11 p.m. (Feb. 16)
Thursday, Feb. 19 Women's 4x7.5k relay 11 p.m. (Feb. 18)
Saturday, Feb. 21 Men's 4x7.5k relay 11 p.m. (Feb. 20)
U.S. Outlook: Biathlon remains one of only three Winter Olympic sports in which Americans never have won a medal. That is not likely to change in 1998.

Others to Watch: Germany and Russia excel in the biathlon, with teams deep enough to dominate in Nagano.

From that large pool, Germany will send Mark Kirchner, the 1992 gold medalist at 10K, Rico Gross, the current world champion, and Sven Fischer, who won the bronze at 20K and was on the gold-medal relay team in 1994.

Norway will be strong with Egil Geitland, John Age Tyldu, Dag Bjoerndalen and Ole Einar Bjorndaelen. Russia's Viktor Maigourov and Pavel Mouslimov will be joined by Sergei Tarassov, who medaled in all three men's events in Lillehammer in 1994, including the 20k gold.

On the women's side, Sweden's Magdalena Forsberg is a formidable competitor. At the 1997 world championships, Forsberg won the gold in the 15k and bronze in the 7.5k. Germany returns two strong medalists from Lillehammer, Ursula Disl, who took bronze in the 15k and silver in the relay, and Simone Greiner-Petter-Memm, a member of the relay.

Russia, with Olga Romansko and Galina Koukleva, and France, Norway and Ukraine are strong contenders as well.

Looking Back at Lillehammer: The Russians, being dominated by the Germans in Albertville in 1992, returned to form in Lillehammer. The Russian men won the 10k (Sergei Tchepikov) and 20k (Sergei Tarassov) and their relay team finished second to the Germans. On the women's side, Myriam Bedard of Canada won both women's individual events and become the first athlete from North America to win an Olympic biathlon event. Russia won the women's relay.

Gold Medalists:

 Men  Women

Men's 10 Kilometers
Year Name County Time
1980 Frank Ullrich, East Germany 32:10.69
1984 Eirik Kvalfoss, Norway 30:53.8
1988 Frank-Peter Rotsch, West Germany 25:08.1
1992 Mark Kirchner, Germany 26:02.3
1994 Sergei Tchepikov, Russia 28:07.0

Men's 20 Kilometers
Year Name County Time
1960 Klas Lestander, Sweden 1:33:21.6
1964 Vladimir Melyanin, Soviet Union 1:20:26.8
1968 Magnar Solberg, Norway 1:13:45.9
1972 Magnar Solberg, Norway 1:15:55.5
1976 Nikolay Kruglov, Soviet Union 1:14:12.26
1980 Anatoliy Alyabiev, Soviet Union 1:08:16.31
1984 Peter Angerer, West Germany 1:11:52.7
1988 Frank-Peter Rotsch, West Germany 56:33.3
1992 Evgueni Redkine, Unified Team 57:34.4
1994 Sergei Tarasov, Russia 57:25.3

Men's 4x7.5-Kilometer Relay
Year Name County Time
1968 Soviet Union 2:13:02.4
1972 Soviet Union 1:51:44.92
1976 Soviet Union 1:57:55.64
1980 Soviet Union 1:34:03.27
1984 Soviet Union 1:38:51.7
1988 Soviet Union 1:22:30.0
1992 Germany 1:24:43.5
1994 Germany 1:30:22.1

Women's 7.5 Kilometers
Year Name County Time
1992 Antissa Restzova, Unified Team 24:29.2
1994 Myriam Bedard, Canada 26:08.8

Women's 15 Kilometers
Year Name County Time
1992 Antje Misersky, Germany 51:47.2
1994 Myriam Bedard, Canada 52:06.6

Women's 3x7.5-Kilometer Relay
Year Name County Time
1992 France 1:15:55.6
1994 Russia 1:47:19.5

Trivia: 1. How many medals has the United States won in biathlon events?
2. What region of the world were biathlon events invented?
3. What kind of rifle in used in biathlon events?

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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