Factbox: Biathlon

The 2010 Winter Olympic Games start on February 12 in Canada. Here are some facts about the biathlon competition.

Eurosport

HISTORY

Originally a military sport, biathlon combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting at fixed targets. The name comes from the Latin 'bi-' meaning twice and 'athlos', the Greek word for sport or contest.

The first known competition was staged between Swedish and Norwegian border guard companies in 1767.

A military ski patrol race was included as a demonstration sport at the first Winter Olympics in 1924 and again in 1928, 1936 and 1948. Biathlon first became an Olympic medals event in 1960.

Women's biathlon joined the Olympics in Albertville in 1992.

EVENTS

Competitors are permitted to ski in either the freestyle or classical style, although all use the freestyle technique out of choice because it is faster. Relay and mass-start competitors must use the classical style for the first 100 metres and then can adopt freestyle.

Using a .22-calibre rifle, competitors fire shots at a target 50 metres away. Each target missed means the competitor is given a one-minute time penalty (in the men's 20km and women's 15km individual event) or, in the other events, must ski a 150-metre penalty loop.

Men ski the 20km individual, 10km sprint, 12.5km pursuit, 4x7.5 km relay and 15km mass start.

Women compete in the 15km individual, 7.5km sprint, 10km pursuit, 4x6km relay and 12.5km mass start.

2006 CHAMPIONS

Men

20km individual: Michael Greis (Germany)

10km sprint : Sven Fischer (Germany)

12.5km pursuit: Vincent Defrasne (France)

15km mass start: Greis

4x7.5km relay: Germany (Greis, Fischer, Michael Roesch, Rico Gross)

Women

15km individual: Svetlana Ishmouratova (Russia)

7.5km sprint: Florence Baverel-Robert (France)

10km pursuit: Kati Wilhelm (Germany)

12.5km mass start: Anna Carin Olofsson (Sweden)

4x6km relay: Russia (Ishmouratova, Albina Akhatova, Anna Bogaliy, Olga Zaitseva)

VENUE

Whistler Olympic Park. The biathlon venue includes four kms of competition trails, a 150-metre-long stadium and state-of-the-art shooting range. The biathlon ski course consists of a main four-km loop with shortcuts for the other competition distances. There is space for 12,000 spectators.

WATCH OUT FOR...

Norway's Ole Einar Bjorndalen looms large over the sport having won five gold medals, three silver and a bronze in an Olympic career stretching back to Nagano in 1998. Tim Burke of the United States has surprised with his progress this season and is looking to become the first American to win an Olympic medal in the sport.

Germany's Magdalena Neuner, who had been battling a back injury, won twice at the last World Cup event in Italy before the Games to prove she could be the woman to beat, though overall World Cup leader Helena Jonsson of Sweden missed the event in the Dolomites to concentrate on her Olympic preparations.

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