Getting to Know the Olympic Nordic Sports: Biathlon and Cross-Country Skiing

<strong>Sylvie Becaert of France heads out after firing during the women's biathlon 4 x 6K relay at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.</strong><br><br>Photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

It is estimated that Nordic skiing has been around for around 5,000 years.

This is the estimated age of the oldest known ski, found in a peat bog in Hoting, Sweden. Old rock carvings found in the Arctic Circle above Rodoy, Norway, depicting hunters on early-style skis are estimated at 4,500 years old. Early skiing uses were for transportation, exploration and hunting. Later, skiing was used for military purposes.

The first evidence of skiing for purposes of sport (with references of speed and wagering) comes from Icelandic poetry, circa 1000 A.D.


There is no doubt that the sport of biathlon, which combines skiing and rifle shooting, has its roots in military purpose. In 1767, the first biathlon competition recorded for Olympic history, was at the Swedish-Norwegian border between border patrol units.

In the last week of the 2010 winter Games, the remaining biathlon events include:

  • Mass Start: In its second Olympic appearance, the top 30 biathletes in the world are all on the course at the same time for Men's 15K and Women's 12.5K mass start. The competitors are comprised of the medal winners from the first three Olympic biathlon events—sprint, pursuit and individual; with the remaining spots filled based on World Cup standings for the 2009-2010 season.

    The course is five 3K laps with four stops at the shooting range, where they take five shots at a target. 10 shots are done prone and 10 are done standing. If any of the shooters miss their target, they are penalized by having to ski around a 150-meter loop. If a competitor is lapped at any point, they are pulled from the event.

  • Relay: The Women's 4x6K and Men's 4x7.5K relays conclude biathlon events for the 2010 Games. In this exciting event, every team starts one member in a mass start. Each team member skis three laps and shoots two rounds; once in the prone position and once in the standing position. For each shooting round of five targets, there are eight bullets available; however, the last three can only be single-loaded, manually from a spare round deposited by the competitor into trays or onto the mat at the firing line.

    Biathletes must remain composed amidst mounting pressure. Remaining missed targets are penalized similar to the mass start, with the biathlete skiing a 150-meter additional loop. In the designated area, competitors tag the next skier on their team with a pat on the back.

Cross-Country Skiing

While the sport of biathlon falls under the governing body of International Biathlon Union (IBU), cross-country skiing falls under the F?d?ration Internationale de Ski (FIS). Events in the last week of the 2010 Games include:

  • Team sprint: Held on the same course used for the individual sprint event, two skiers from one nation each complete three loops. For both women and men, it is a 1.5K loop.

  • Relay: The Women's 4x5K and Men's 4x10K relays are held in the last few days of the 2010 Games. This very interesting mixed event determines which country has the most Nordic skiing depth by demanding that the first two members of the team ski classical, followed by the last two members doing freestyle (skating) technique.

  • Mass start: Wrapping up the cross-country events at the Games are the Women's 30K and Men's 50K Classical events. This mass start event has been held at every Winter Olympic Games since 1924. As the title indicates, classical cross-country technique (rather than skating or freestyle technique) will be used. This event is special at the 2010 Games because the men's medal ceremony will take place during the Closing Ceremonies for the Games.


  3. Professional Ski Instructors of America Nordic Technical Manual, Skiing and Teaching Skills; ISBN 1-882409-26-4

Gale Bernhardt was the USA Triathlon team coach at the 2003 Pan American Games and 2004 Athens Olympics. Her first Olympic experience was as a personal cycling coach at the 2000 Games in Sydney. She currently serves as one of the World Cup coaches for the International Triathlon Union's Sport Development Team. Thousands of athletes have had successful training and racing experiences using Gale's pre-built, easy-to-follow cycling and triathlon training plans. Let Gale and Active Trainer help you succeed.

Related Articles:

Nordic Skiing: Excellent Cross-Training for Endurance Athletes

Cross-Country Skiing for Beginners

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