Biathlon is a winter sport that incorporates cross country skiing and precision rifle marksmanship. It first appeared as a single event in the 1960 Winter Games in Squaw Valley. The sport has proved popular and now has 11 events, including one new event, the mixed relay, which will be seen for the first time at the 2014 Winter Games. The first event, the Men's 10 km Sprint will take place on Feb 8.
According to the Olympic Committee: “Biathlon-type events in Scandinavia are known to have been held as early as the 18th century. The first modern biathlon probably occurred in 1912 when the Norwegian military organised [sic] the Forvarsrennet in Oslo. An annual event, it consisted initially of a 17km cross-country ski race with two-minute penalties incurred by misses in the shooting part of the competition.”
It appeared as a demonstration sport in the 1948 St Moritz Winter Olympics in a much more involved form modeled on the modern pentathlon. The current form, which uses .22 caliber rifles, debuted in 1978 and was included in the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid. Biathlon rules are governed by the International Biathlon Union.
Biathletes ski around a course, then stop and shoot at a mechanical reactive target with the rifle they carry while skiing. Penalties, either time or extra skiing laps, are added for any missed targets. The targets are 50 meters from the shooter and are 1.8 inches in diameter during prone stages and 4.5 inches in diameter for standing stages. The target will drop down when hit, visually indicating to the shooter and the audience that a hit has been made.
The U.S. biathlon team has never won a medal in the Winter Olympics. However, the team had a record breaking season in 2012 on the world cup circuit. This means that U.S. Olympians could reach the podium in the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
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