Biathlon

The biathlon is a winter sport that combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting. It is treated as a race where the contestant with the shortest total time wins. Depending on the competition, missed shots result in extra distance or time being added to the contestant's total. According to Encyclopædia Britannica, the biathlon "is rooted in the skiing traditions of Scandinavia, where early inhabitants revered the Norse god Ullr as both the ski god and the hunting god". In modern times, the activity that developed into this sport was an exercise for Norwegian people that was an alternative training for the military. Norwegian skiing regiments organized military skiing contests in the 18th century, divided in four classes: shooting at mark while skiing at top speed, downhill race among trees, downhill race on big hills without falling, and a long race on flat ground while carrying rifle and military pack. In modern terminology these military contests included downhill, slalom, biathlon, and cross-country skiing.[1] One of the world's first known ski clubs, the Trysil Rifle and Ski Club, was formed in Norway in 1861 to promote national defense at the local level. 20th century variants include Forsvarsrennet (the military contest) – a 17 km cross-country race with shooting, and the military cross-country race at 30 km including marksmanship. The modern biathlon is a civilian variant of the old military combined exercise.[2] In Norway, the biathlon was until 1984 a branch of Det frivillige Skyttervesen, an organization set up by the government to promote civilian marksmanship in support of national defense. In Norwegian, the biathlon is called skiskyting (literally ski shooting).[3] In Norway there are still separate contests in skifeltskyting, a cross-country race at 12 km with large-caliber rifle shooting at various targets with unknown range.[4] Called military patrol, the combination of skiing and shooting was contested at the Winter Olympic Games in 1924, and then demonstrated in 19281936, and 1948, but did not regain Olympic recognition then because the small number of competing countries disagreed on the rules. During the mid-1950s, however, the biathlon was introduced into the Soviet and Swedish winter sport circuits and was widely enjoyed by the public. This newfound popularity aided the effort of having the biathlon gain entry into the Winter Olympics. The first Biathlon World Championship was held in 1958 in Austria, and in 1960 the sport was finally included in the Olympic Games.[3] At Albertville in 1992, women were first allowed in the Olympic biathlon. The competitions from 1958 to 1965 used high-power centerfire cartridges, such as the .30-06 Springfield and the 7.62×51mm NATO, before the .22 Long Rifle rimfire cartridge was standardized in 1978. The ammunition was carried in a belt worn around the competitor's waist. The sole event was the men's 20 km individual, encompassing four separate ranges and firing distances of 100 m, 150 m, 200 m, and 250 m. The target distance was reduced to 150 m with the addition of the relay in 1966. The shooting range was further reduced to 50 m in 1978 with the mechanical self-indicating targets making their debut at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid.[5]