Biathlons are challenging and physically demanding events that test each competitor's endurance and mental strength. The sport combines both cross-country skiing and rifle shooting, requiring skiers to stop at several checkpoints and knock down a series of targets either standing or lying down. Shooting the rifle with accuracy is crucial in order to winning the event, as athletes are assessed a penalty in the form of added time or distance for every target missed.
Originating hundreds of years ago in Scandinavia, the biathlon was first demonstrated at the Winter Olympics in 1924 before becoming an official event in 1960. While the sport has gained a lot of traction in the United States over the past decade, it is still more prevalent in European countries, as evidenced by the fact that Myriam Bedard of Canada is the only non-European athlete ever to win an Olympic biathlon title.
There is certainly a strategic aspect to the biathlon, as participants must find a happy medium between skiing at a fast pace and taking enough time to hit all the targets. The cross-country skiing portion also comes with a twist in that athletes must carry anywhere from 10-20 rounds of ammunition on their backs throughout the race.
Currently, the Olympic biathlon agenda includes four different events for both the men's and the women's division. Individual, sprint, relay and pursuit races all differ slightly in nature. Sprint and pursuit races some involving a race to the finish and fewer shooting checkpoints, while individual and relay races stress accuracy and have far more shooting checkpoints.
The biathlon is one of the most exciting sports to witness as the Winter Olympics due to the fact that it is essentially a mash-up of two sports coinciding. Penalties and different strategies tend to keep the events very competitive, with many races coming down to the wire.