Sports of the Paralympic Winter Games: Biathlon

Sports of the Paralympic Winter Games: Biathlon

Para biathlon is an outdoor snow sport combining the fast pace of cross-country skiing with the focus and precision of rifle shooting. Athletes with physical and vision impairments can compete. Vision impaired athletes ski with a guide. It made its first appearance in the Paralympic Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway in 1994. Russia, Germany and Ukraine have earned the most Paralympic medals for biathlon. A biathlon course measures either 2, 2.5 or 3 kilometres in length depending on the event. A shooting range sits at one area of the course and faces five targets placed 10m away. Athletes take aim at black, metal targets. For sit-skiers and standing skiers, a successful hit turns the target white while a missed target remains black. For vision impaired athletes, a hit turns the target green while a miss turns it red. Targets are 13mm in diameter for standing and sitting athletes while they are 21mm for vision impaired athletes. That’s the size of a tiny blueberry! For each missed target in the sprint and middle distance, biathletes in the sit-ski class must ski a 100m penalty loop. Biathletes in the standing and vision impaired classes must ski a 150m penalty loop. In the individual event, each miss is penalised by a one-minute penalty which is added to the biathlete’s total race time. The equipment used in most Paralympic events is designed to enable an athlete to compete to their maximum ability. Biathlon electronic rifles are an excellent example of how technology creates opportunities for athletes with vision impairments. Athletes with vision impairments aim with their ears! The electronic rifles use sound to find the target. The closer an athlete’s aim is to the centre of the target, the higher the tone emitted from the rifle. Skis are used by all biathletes, but the style will vary depending on the athlete’s mobility. Sit-skis are specially fitted chairs atop a pair of skis and are used by athletes with limb deficiency, impaired passive range of motion, impaired muscle power or co-ordination impairments. Racing suits are worn to reduce wind resistance while securing body temperature. Para biathlon divides the athletes into three categories: sitting, standing and vision impaired. All athletes can compete in sprint, middle and individual events. Sit-skiers compete over shorter distances and on different courses to standing skiers and athletes with vision impairments. Sit-ski courses have different inclines, climbs, corners and downhill sections. Athletes begin racing in 30 second intervals, stopping to shoot once every lap and finishing on the last lap without shooting. When an athlete reaches the shooting range, he or she will shoot at five targets from the prone position. Scoring for Para biathlon is designed to create a level playing field for all competitors. Before the race starts, a classification system is used to group athletes according to how they race – vision impairment, standing and sitting – and the impact on activity. Race times are adjusted for each group. Results are calculated by adding a percentage to the athlete’s race time. The percentage is specific to each sport class within each impairment group. Biathlon merges together two very different sports as athletes push their bodies to the limit racing across a long stretch of snow, then fire a rifle with steady hands despite their pounding chests and burning lungs. Biathletes are literally shooting for gold!

5 Replies to “Sports of the Paralympic Winter Games: Biathlon”

  1. I love para Olympics. It's every bit as exciting as the regular Olympics and more inspiring. I have followed it on television however, the coverage, compared to the regular olympics, has been disappointing to say the least. A couple hours a day twice a day can not be showing all the events. The television stations should be ashamed of themselves. I don't care what country wins which medal, I enjoy seeing the medalist having the best day of their life. They live it and I get the joy of witnessing it. For me, that's the true spirit of the games. Watching the best on the planet competing in their respective events. Who cares what country they came from? It's the heart, dedication, and personal effort they show that makes the competition worth watching. Would really appreciate it if television stations showed all the events instead of the ones that mostly Americans are expected to medal in.

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