Biathlon Factsheet

Olympic HistoryBiathlon consists of cross-country skiing in which the ski runner stops at intervals to shoot a rifle at a target.  Evidence for a skiing and shooting sport exists in cave paintings in Norway from about 2000 B.C.E., depicting hunters on skis while stalking animals for game.  The modern sport has a military basis, in which Scandinavian soldiers were trained to ski while carrying rifles and to periodically stop and shoot.  Biathlon-type events in Scandinavia were held as early as the 18th century.

The first modern biathlon probably occurred in 1912 when the Norwegian military organized the Forvarsrennet in Oslo, an annual event, which consisted initially of a 17 km. cross-country ski race with two-minute penalties for the shooting part of the competition.  A military patrol event was contested at the Olympic Winter Games as a medal sport in 1924, and a demonstration sport in 1928, 1936, and 1948, although it was not precisely the same as the biathlon.

Attempts to introduce a winter multi-event patterned after the modern pentathlon began in 1948, when the Winter Pentathlon was contested at the St. Moritz Olympics as a demonstration sport.  It consisted of cross-country and downhill skiing, and also shooting, fencing, and horse riding.  The first world championships in biathlon were held in 1958 at Saalfelden, Austria.  The sport quickly was placed on the Olympic program, showing up at Squaw Valley in 1960.  Women’s biathlon made its Olympic début in 1992 as a full medal sport at Albertville.

Olympic biathlon events have consisted of a single men’s race and a men’s relay until 1980 when a second individual event was contested.  The event is scored by time.  In the longer individual race a one-minute penalty is assessed for a missed shooting bulls-eye, and a two-minute penalty is assessed for missing a target.  In the shorter individual race and the relay, missing a target is penalized by requiring the biathlete to ski a 150 metre penalty loop.  For 2002, a new pursuit event of 12 km. for men and 10 km. for women was added to the Olympic program.  In 2006, a mass start sprint event for both men and women was added to the biathlon program.

Originally, biathlon was governed by the Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne et Biathlon (UIPMB).  However, in 1993, biathlon separated from the modern pentathlon and formed the International Biathlon Union (IBU) to govern the sport independently.  The IBU currently has 68 affiliated national federations, as of November 2013.  All of the nations are also IOC member nations, with the lone exception of Greenland.

The current member nations are as follows: Algeria, Andorra, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Chinese Taipei, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Estonia, Finland, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, France, Georgia, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Greenland, Guam, Hungary, India, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lebanon, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Moldova, Monaco, Mongolia, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United States, US Virgin Islands, and Uzbekistan.