Did you know? Fourteen facts on biathlon

By Traci Hendrix | Jan. 28, 2014, 12 p.m. (ET)
Andy Soule
Heading into the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, Andy Soule, U.S. Army, ret., is the only American athlete to ever win a medal in biathlon and the Olympic or Paralympic Winter Games.

The Paralympic Winter Games are March 7-16, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. With 114 medals up for grabs in 38 Nordic skiing events, up to 200 athletes will compete in biathlon and cross-country skiing, which are separate sports at the Games. Get ready for Sochi with these 14 facts on biathlon:


Biathlon combines elements of cross-country skiing and sharp shooting. In sprint biathlon, athletes ski three 2.5-kilometers loops for 7.5km total. Between the loops, athletes stop and shoot at five targets. The biathlon competition includes 10 targets total and for each missed shot, the athlete must ski a 150 meter penalty loop. Long distance competitors ski the loop five times and stop four times at the shooting range. For each missed shot in the long distance event, a one minute penalty is added to the athlete's finishing time.

On target

In biathlon, the target size has a diameter of 25-millimeters for visually impaired athletes. Athletes with a physical impairment shoot at a target that is 15 mm.

Shooting strength

The most important success factor for biathletes lies in their capability of alternating physical endurance skills, used for cross-country skiing, and accuracy, using for the shooting portion of the competition. Athletes receive a one minute penalty for each shot missed in long distance events, and must ski a 150 meter penalty loop for each miss in the sprint and middle distance events. For athletes with visual impairments, there are acoustic signals, which depending on signal intensity, indicate when the athlete is on target.


In biathlon, athletes are classified as standing, sitting or visually impaired and compete against other athletes with similar abilities.


Any form of ski technique is permitted in Paralympic biathlon. However, only skis and ski poles may be used during the competition. Biathletes in the sitting events use a sit-ski, a specially built chair attached to a pair of skis. The biathlon rifle remains in the range for Paralympic biathlon. A one-piece special ski suit helps maintain a constant body temperature and minimizes wind resistance.

Bearing specific arms

The rifle used for standing and sitting biathlon is air rifle with a five shot clip holding .177 pellets. It must be in accordance with specifications of the International Union of Shooting, which is the global governing body for shooting. Visually impaired athletes shoot with an electronic rifle that allows aiming by hearing. The closer the rifle points to the center of the target, the higher the tone is. The different tones that occur when the rifle is moved, allows the shooter to find the exact center of the target.

Get started

Biathlon races use an interval start format with skiers starting every 30 seconds.

First bi-winners

Biathlon was introduced for the first time for people with disabilities in the Innsbruck 1988 Paralympic Winter Games. The first gold medalists to win were Per-Erik Larsson of Sweden in the LW2 class, Svein Lilleberg of Norway in LW4 class and Jouko Grip of Finland in the LW6/8 class. LW 2-9 are classes for standing skiers.


In 1992, athletes with a visual impairment were first allowed to compete in biathlon at the Paralympic Winter Games, which were held in Albertville, France.

Legacy of Lillehammer

At the Lillehammer 1994 Paralympic Winter Games, biathletes competed at the same venue used for the Olympic Winter Games, marking the first time that Olympic and Paralympic Nordic skiers have shared a venue. In Norway, biathlon was also a medal event for men and women for the first time.


Biathlon is governed by the International Paralympic Committee Biathlon and the IPC Nordic Skiing Technical Committee. The sport uses the rules of the International Biathlon Union with modifications for physical and visual impairment.

Soule’s success

Heading into the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, the U.S. has never won a gold medal in Olympic or Paralympic biathlon. Only 2010 bronze medalist Andy Soule (Pearland, Texas), ret. U.S. Army, has ever medaled in biathlon at the Olympic or Paralympic Winter Games. He finished third in the men’s sitting 2.4km event at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games.

Armed Forces athletes

With the combination of stamina and strength, as well as marksmanship, biathlon has become an attractive sport in the United States for wounded, ill and injured members of the U.S. Armed Forces and veterans. At the 2013 International Paralympic Committee Nordic Skiing World Championships, five athletes competed for Team USA, and all had a military background. U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Dan Cnossen (Topeka, Kan.) was joined by Eric Frazier (Maple Hill, N.C.), retired U.S. Marines; Sean Halsted (Spokane, Wash./Twin Lakes, Idaho), retired Air Force; Soule; and Jeremy Wagner (Honolulu, Hawaii), retired Army Reserves. Team USA is expected to be well represented by service members and veterans for Nordic skiing. 

Where the magic happens

At the Sochi 2014 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, biathlon events will take place in the "Mountain Cluster" in a venue named “Laura”, named after the Laura River. The complex, which is for both biathlon and cross-country skiing, includes start and finish lines for both events and a shooting area. The venue can seat 15,000 people.