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The Paralympic Sport of Biathlon

Biathlon, which is comprised of both cross-country skiing and target shooting, was introduced to the Paralympics at Innsbruck in 1988 for physically-impaired athletes and at Albertville in 1992 for visually-impaired athletes.

An athlete shoots at the Laura Cross-Country Ski & Biathlon Center prior to the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games on March 4, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Competition

Biathlon consists of a 2.0 or 2.5 kilometer cross-country course that is skied three or five times, for a total distance of 6-15 kilometers. Between each stage, the athlete must use a rifle to hit targets that are 10 meters away. A miss results in a penalty (either a penalty loop of skiing or a time penalty, depending on the event), and the athlete with the shortest overall time wins.

According to the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), "The most important success factor lies in the capability of alternating the skills of physical endurance and shooting accuracy during the competition."

The Equipment

Rifle: The rifle an air or CO2 rifle with a five-shot clip (that meet the specifications of the International Union of Shooting's rule). For visually-impaired athletes, the rifle is equipped with electro-acoustic glasses. Blind athletes use an electronic rifle that facilitates aim via sound tones.

Sit-skis: Athletes with a physical impairment that keeps them from competing in a standing position compete using a sit-ski. Sit-skis have a specially fitted chair over a single mono ski and includes belts, strapping, and a suspension device.

Free Technique Skis: Classic skis are usually 25cm to 30cm taller than the skier and made of lightweight fiberglass. Free technique skis are about 10cm to 15cm shorter to allow for easier maneuvering. They are also nominally stiffer and have tips that curve less than classical technique skis. Both types of skis have a groove down the middle of the underside to facilitate skiing straight downhill.

Target: The targets are metal drop-down targets with a white face plate and five black-colored independently-operated knock-down scoring targets. The target has a diameter of 30mm for visually-impaired athletes and 20mm for athletes with a physical disability.

For more information, visit The Paralympic sport of biathlon is governed by the IPC with co-ordination by the IPC Nordic Skiing Technical Committee, following the modified rules of the International Biathlon Union (IBU).

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