Q: What is biathlon?
Simply put, biathlon combines cross-country skiing and shooting. Athletes, with rifles slung on their backs, ski a set course, which raises their heart rates. They stop at designated points to shoot at targets, either from a prone or standing position. Scoring varies depending on the event, but essentially time and marksmanship are combined to determine the winners.
Q: When was biathlon added to the Olympics?
Biathlon first appeared in the Olympics in 1960 in Squaw Valley, Calif., with one event — the men’s 20 km individual race. The first Olympic biathlon events for women debuted in 1992 in Albertville, France.
Q: How many biathlon events will be contested in PyeongChang?
Eleven events will be contested at the Alpensia Biathlon Centre. Men and women will compete in the sprint, pursuit, individual, mass start and relays. There is also a mixed relay. Each event varies in format and scoring. Here’s how:
Individual: Starts are staggered by 30 seconds or a minute. There are four rounds of shooting — prone, standing, prone, standing — with five shots per round. Each missed target adds one minute to the skiing time.
Sprint: Starts are staggered by 30 seconds or a minute. There are two rounds of shooting — one prone, one standing — with five shots per round. Each missed shot means the skier must complete a penalty loop of 150 meters before continuing.
Pursuit: The winners of the sprint and individual events start first, and the rest of the order is determined by how far the competitors finished behind the winners. There are four rounds of shooting — prone, prone, standing, standing — with five shots per round. If a target is missed, the competitor must ski the penalty loop before continuing.
Mass start: Just as it sounds, all athletes begin the race at the same time and must stop four times for shooting — prone, prone, standing, standing — with five shots in each round. Every miss means a lap around the penalty loop. The biathlete who crosses the line first is the winner.
Relay: Each team includes four members. The men’s race is 7.5 km, the women’s is 6 km. The men shoot after skiing 2.5 km and 5 km, the women after skiing 2 km and 4 km. Athletes are given three spare bullets for every round of five targets, but if they miss any of the five, the bullets must be hand-loaded into the magazine of the rifle, adding time — and pressure. For each miss after all eight bullets, the athlete must ski a penalty loop.
The first competitor for each team departs simultaneously. There is a handover zone in which incoming and outgoing skiers make contact — the equivalent of passing a baton — before continuing.
Mixed relay: Two men and two women make up a team. The first athlete of each team starts simultaneously; the two women go first, then the two men. The women shoot at the 6 km mark, the men at the 7.5 km mark, and follow the same rules as the relay.
Q: Which countries are best at biathlon?
The idea may have originated in Scandinavia, from the days when hunters would don skis to pursue their prey, but the most dominant country is Germany, with 45 medals.
Norway is second with 35, and it produced the greatest biathlete in Olympic history. Ole Einar Bjorndalen has 13 medals, most of any athlete of any sport in Winter Olympic history (eight gold, four silver, one bronze). He also has 95 individual victories in World Cup events and 20 world titles.
In January, the Norwegian Biathlon Association made a somewhat surprising announcement: Bjorndalen, 44, had not met qualifying standards and was not named to his seventh Olympic team.
“It sucks that I can’t go,” Bjorndalen told Norwegian TV, via AFP. But in late January, Bjorndalen was added to the Belarus biathlon coaching staff. It just so happens he’s married to Darya Domracheva, a Belarusian biathlete, and the president of the country’s biathlon federation admits that’s one of the reasons he sought, and received, IOC permission to add the Norwegian star.
“We did it to make Dasha (Domracheva) feel comfortable in PyeongChang,” Anatoly Stromsky said, adding, “Bjorndalen’s huge experience may be very useful for the entire squad. His advice may be precious for us at the Games.”
Q: Has the United States ever won an Olympic medal in biathlon?
Team USA has made strides in international competition but has not won an Olympic medal in the sport.
Q: Who is competing for the United States in PyeongChang?
Men: Lowell Bailey, Tim Burke, Russell Currier, Sean Doherty, Leif Nordgren.
Women: Emily Dreissigacker, Susan Dunklee, Clare Egan, Maddie Phaneuf, Joanne Reid.
Bailey is ranked 38th in the world and Doherty 39th.
Dunklee also ranks 39th in the world and has a medal shot on the first day, in the 7.5 km sprint. Reid is the daughter of Beth Heiden and niece of Eric Heiden, both former Olympic speedskaters.
Q: Who are some athletes to watch?
Martin Fourcade of France is the man to beat. He leads the World Cup rankings over Johannes Thingnes Boe of Norway. Jakov Fak of Slovenia is a distant third. Russia’s biathlon team had come under heavy scrutiny for potential doping, but in late January the International Biathlon Union announced that 22 athletes had been cleared and could compete in PyeongChang.
Kaisa Makarainen of Finland, Anastasiya Kuzmina of Slovakia and Dorothea Wierer of Italy are atop the women’s World Cup rankings.
Q: When is biathlon contested, and how can I watch it on TV?
The first biathlon medal is awarded Feb. 10, the first full day of competition, and the last comes on Feb. 23.
All events will air on NBC and NBCSN, but only three will be shown live. Here is a schedule of the finals, with television coverage in parentheses (all times Eastern). Live telecasts are in bold. Races are also available by live-streaming at NBCOlympics.com or on the NBC Sports app. Daily TV listings can be found here.
Feb. 10: Women’s 7.5 km sprint, 6:15 a.m. (NBCSN, 1-5 p.m.)
Feb. 11: Men’s 10 km sprint, 6:15 a.m. (NBCSN, 5-9 a.m. and 5:30-8:30 p.m.; NBC, 3-6 p.m.)
Feb. 12: Women’s 10 km pursuit, 5:10 a.m. (NBCSN, 5:10-7 a.m.); men’s 12.5km pursuit, 7 a.m. (NBCSN, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.)
Feb. 14: Women’s 15 km individual, 6:05 a.m. (NBCSN, 11:30 a.m.-1:15 p.m.)
Feb. 15: Men’s 20 km individual, 6 a.m. (NBC, 1:05 a.m.-2 a.m.; NBCSN, noon-2 p.m.)
Feb. 17: Women’s 12.5 km mass start, 6:15 a.m. (NBCSN, 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.; NBC, 3-6 p.m.)
Feb. 18: Men’s 15 km mass start, 6:15 a.m. (NBCSN, 10:15 a.m.-1 p.m.; NBC, 3-6 p.m.)
Feb. 20: Mixed relay, 6:15 a.m. (NBCSN, 9:30 a.m.-noon; NBC, 3-6 p.m.)
Feb. 22: Women’s 4×6 km relay, 6:15 a.m. (NBCSN, 5:20-7:45 a.m.; NBC, 3-5 p.m.)
Feb. 23: Men’s 4×7.5 km relay, 6:15 a.m. (NBC, 3-5 p.m.; NBCSN, 8 p.m.-midnight)
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