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Biathlon 101: Competition format

Biathlon 101: Competition format
Posted at 10:11 AM, Oct 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-12 12:40:36-04

Listed below are the six biathlon competition formats set to be contended at the 2022 Winter Games.

Individual

Men’s distance: 20km
Women’s distance: 15km
Number of shooting bouts (order): 4 (P+S+P+S) 
Rounds of ammunition per bout: 5 
Penalty for missed targets: 1 minute added to time 
Race start format: Interval 

Called the “traditional biathlon competition” by the International Biathlon Union (IBU), the individual events are as they are named. Biathletes individually race and shoot against the clock to post the fastest time of the day. Athletes who have completed the course must undergo a disquieted form of torture as they wait for the others to cross the finish line to see if their time will be good enough to put them on the medal stand. The world’s elite will finish the race in just under 50 minutes.

Sprint

Men’s distance: 10km 
Women’s distance: 7.5km 
Number of shooting bouts (order): 2 (P+S) 
Rounds of ammunition per bout: 5 
Penalty for missed targets: Ski one 150m penalty loop for each missed target 
Race start format: Interval 

If you want to understand the sprint event in biathlon, take a metaphorical knife and cut the Individual men's and women's events in half. In doing so you shorten the skiing portion to 10km for the men and 7.5km for the women, and four shooting bouts become two. All that’s left is the change in format for penalty enforcement. Instead of automatically adding a minute to a biathletes time for every missed target, athletes must ski a penalty loop for every target they fail to convert. That’s the sprint. 

Pursuit

Men’s distance: 12.5km 
Women’s distance: 10km 
Number of shooting bouts (order): 4 (P+P+S+S) 
Rounds of ammunition per bout: 5 
Penalty for missed targets: Ski one 150m penalty loop for each missed target 
Race start format: Winners of individual and sprint depart first; remaining athletes depart the starting gate in intervals based on their sprint event finishing time 

The pursuit is like nothing else in the biathlon Olympic program. The finish in pursuit is traditional enough – first person to cross the line wins gold – but it’s the start that sets the unique stage for this event. Gold medal winners in the individual and sprint events are given a head start, setting off onto the course first. The "pursuit" begins when the rest of the field begins the chase. The remaining athletes wait like greyhounds crammed into a starting gate, waiting to chase the rabbits. The chasers ski out of the starting gate in order based on their finishing time behind the sprint event winner.

Relay

Men’s distance: 4x7.5km 
Women’s distance: 4x6km 
Number of shooting bouts (order): 2 per biathlete (P+S) 
Rounds of ammunition per bout: 5 in magazine + 3 loose rounds (must be hand loaded)  
Penalty for missed targets: Ski one 150m penalty loop for each missed target  
Race start format: Mass start featuring first members of each relay team 

Athletes are allotted three spare rounds of ammo per shooting bout in the relay. The IBU states the extra rounds give athletes the opportunity to attempt to shoot faster in a pressure-packed race where speed and accuracy on the range can make a huge impact at the finish line. If you want to spot the favorites in a relay simply look at their bib number. The number on a biathlete’s bib represents their team’s current IBU World Cup Relay Score ranking. 

Mixed Relay

Distance: 2x6km Women + 2x7.5km Men 
Number of shooting bouts (order): 2 per biathlete (P+S) 
Rounds of ammunition per bout: 5 in magazine + 3 loose rounds (must be hand loaded) 
Penalty for missed targets: Ski one 150m penalty loop for each missed target   
Race start format: Mass start featuring first members of each relay team 

The mixed relay event features teams of two men and two women competing for Olympic gold. The first two legs of the race are contested by the women who race 6km a piece, stopping to shoot twice, and the men race the third and fourth legs, also facing two bouts on the shooting range, but will complete a ski portion measuring 7.5km. Just like in the relays, an athlete may hand-load up to three single bullets if they have any remaining targets after expiring their first five shots from the magazine. 

Mass Start

Men’s distance: 15km 
Women’s distance: 12.5km 
Number of shooting bouts (order): 4 (P+P+S+S) 
Rounds of ammunition per bout: 5 
Penalty for missed targets: Ski one 150m penalty loop for each missed target  
Race start format: Mass start

When you send 30+ biathletes onto the course all at once expect the unexpected. Some biathletes are faster skiers while others are more exacting sharpshooters, but a biathlete’s lead in the mass start is only as good at their trigger finger allows. With each missed target a racer must ski a 150m penalty loop, meaning an athlete can easily give up their lead with a single errant bullet. Like in every biathlon event, the best way to have a shot at the medal stand is shoot clean and stay out of the loop.