How Does Scoring Work in Biathlon?

biathlon scoring

Biathlon combines cross country skiing and rifle shooting into one exciting competition. The exceptional athleticism and focus required by the athletes are entertaining to watch but can be confusing for new fans to learn. Read more to learn about the scoring system used in biathlon.


Biathlon Scoring

Events

There are five different types of events in biathlon: individual, sprint, relay, pursuit, and mass start. In each event, the skiing distances, number of targets, or shooting style (prone vs standing) may differ, but the end goal is the same, to finish first. The shooting portion is scored using an electronic pulse system for all biathlon competitions. The targets have plates behind them that detect each time they are hit and send a pulse that raises a flag to indicate how many hits have been scored. This scoring system allows officials to distribute penalty laps or added time to athletes who missed their targets. 

The scoring for each type of biathlon event is as follows:

  • Individual: Individual races are between 15 and 20 km and involve four rounds of shooting with five targets per round. Each missed target results in a one-minute penalty.
  • Sprint: Sprint races are between 7.5 and 12.5 km and only have two shooting segments with a missed target penalty of an additional 150-meter loop.
  • Pursuit: Athletes have staggered starts, with the top finishers from the sprint race going first. They must pursue their competitors over a 10 to 12.5 km course with shooting segments and a missed target penalty of an additional 150-meter loop.
  • Mass Start: 12.5 to 15 km races in which all athletes start at the same time. The first across the finish line wins after four shooting segments with a missed target penalty of an additional 150-meter loop.
  • Relay: Races between 24 and 30 km, with each of the four members doing an equal share. Each athlete has two shooting rounds and three extra rounds of ammunition in case of misses. If they still have missed targets after their extra rounds, they receive a 150-meter penalty lap for each miss.
  • Mixed-Relay: The mixed relay starts with two women, each skiing 2.6 km with two shooting rounds and three extra rounds of ammunition. Next, two men ski 2.7 km with the same shooting format. 150-meter penalty laps are given for missed targets.

Deductions

Athletes can be given penalty time for a variety of reasons. The most common penalty is for missing a target during the shooting rounds, resulting in a one-minute penalty or a mandated run through a 150-meter penalty lap located just beyond the shooting area. If the athlete were to skip that lap and proceed to the next skiing area, they would receive a two-minute penalty. They can also be assessed a two-minute penalty for using the incorrect skiing technique (freestyle instead of classical), not firing all five of their rounds during the shooting segment, or not giving way when a competitor has requested to pass during the skiing portion of the competition.

Officials

Officials have many responsibilities with regards to scoring in biathlon. They must ensure that athletes start on time, as many of the events have staggered starts, and they must apply penalties to athletes that start early. They are also responsible for performing pre and post-event inspections of skis and rifles to ensure athletes use safe and legal equipment. Equipment violations could lead to penalty time or even disqualification. Officials are also responsible for enforcing rules of the competition, such as allowing a pursuing competitor to pass during the skiing portion of the competition or making sure that athletes always have the rifles on their back with the barrel facing upwards during the skiing portion.

Summary of Biathlon Scoring Rules

  • Athletes compete in a cross country skiing race with rifles strapped to their backs and stop at designated areas to shoot at targets. The competitor to complete the course first wins.
  • Athletes are penalized for missing targets during the shooting rounds with either a one minute time penalty or an extra penalty lap to ski
  • If an athlete starts early (between 0.1 and 3 seconds) in a pursuit race, they are given a 30-second penalty
  • If an athlete does not complete the penalty loop earned by missing a target, they are given a two-minute penalty

FAQ

What is the scoring system in biathlon?

For the individual sprint and pursuit events, the fastest net time after penalties is the winner. For the individual competitions, a one-minute penalty is given for missed targets, while the other events have a 150-meter penalty laps for each missed target. The mass start, relay, and mixed relay are simply based on who crosses the finish line first, as all competitors start simultaneously and must do 150-meter penalty laps for missed targets. 

How does the IBU rank biathletes?

The International Biathlon Union (IBU) is the organization that governs biathlon on the global stage. A specialized scoring system is used for the International Biathlon Rankings, based on the finishing position of athletes in individual races. The annual IBU World Cup awards first place finishers 60 points, 2nd place – 54 pts, 3rd place – 48 pts, 4th place – 43 pts, 5th place – 40 pts, 6th place – 38 pts, 7th – 36 pts, 8th – 34 points, 9th – 32 points, 10th – 31 points, then linearly decreasing by one point down to the 40th place. 

How does biathlon scoring work in the Olympics?

In the Olympics, athletes are ranked based on their net times after penalties are applied for both the individual event and the sprint event. For the mass start, pursuit, and relay events, the only thing taken into account is who crosses the finish line first. Scoring in the biathlon during Olympic competition includes a penalty loop of 150 meters for every target missed during the shooting stage of the competition. Lastly, any competitor or team that is lapped during an event must withdraw. 

How many targets must be hit in each round in biathlon?

At each shooting area in biathlon, biathletes must hit five targets with five rounds each. Depending on the event and the round, some targets will need to be hit from the prone position while others will need to be hit from the standing position. The athletes only have enough ammunition for one shot per target and face a time penalty or 150m penalty lap if they fail to hit each target. However, in relay events, competitors get three additional rounds if they miss a target on their first five shots. These extra rounds will need to be manually loaded, and if there are still unhit targets remaining after the extra shots, they must take the 150m penalty lap.