Biathlon demands an athlete to alternate the skills of physical endurance and shooting accuracy during a competition. Biathlon athletes with a disability are classified as standing, sitting, or skiers with a visual impairment. The sport combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting, but differs from Olympic biathlon because skiers must always shoot from a prone position. Athlete start times are staggered by a 30 second interval system.
Biathlon is divided into short-distance and long-distance. In short-distance, skiers race around a 2-5km loop and stop twice to take five shots at a target placed 10km away. Long-distance is similar but skiers must make five trips around the loop, stopping to shoot four times. For the shooting portion, skiers with a visual impairment use an electronic system that sends out acoustic signals to indicate when they are nearing the target.
Each target has five plates in a row that must be hit within their 15mm bullâ€™s eye. In short-distance, a 150m penalty loop must be skied for each missed shot. In long-distance, a one minute time penalty is added to the athleteâ€™s time for each missed shot. The International Paralympic Committee uses the Nordic Percentage System to equalise across categories and determine one gold, silver, and bronze medal position.
The competition is open to men and women with a physical disability and visual impairment. The sport is governed by the IPC with co-ordination by the IPC Nordic Skiing Technical Committee following the modified rules of the International Biathlon Union (IBU). Cross-Country Canada is the National Sport Federation.
The fifteen classifications for athletes with a physical disability are as follows:
B1 - totally blind (no sight)
B2 - partially sighted (visual acuity of 20/60 â€“ limited sight)
B3 - partially sighted (visual acuity above 20/60 to 6/60 â€“more sight than B2)
LW1 - double above-knee amputees
LW2 - outrigger skiers
LW3 - double below-knee amputees
LW4 - skiers with prosthesis
LW5/7- skiers without poles
LW6/8 - skiers with one pole
LW9/1 - disability of arm and leg (after amputation)
LW9/2 - disability of arm and leg (cerebral palsy)
LW10 - high degree of paraplegia, no muscles in lower body
LW11 - lower degree of paraplegia, with muscles in lower body
LW12/1 - lower degree of paraplegia, lower incomplete paralysis
LW12/2 - double above-knee amputees
Rifle: The rifle used can be any type of air or CO2 rifle with a five shot clip. Blind athletes shoot with an electronic rifle that allows aiming by hearing. The closer the rifle points to the centre of the target the higher the tone is.
Sit-Ski: An athlete with a lower-body disability uses a sledge, which is a specially built chair that can be attached to a pair of skis. The skis are almost identical to standard skis, although shorter, and are attached to the chair with a standard cross-country binding.
Ski: Made from fibreglass, classical skis are usually 25cm to 30cm taller than the height of a skier. They are light, weighing less than 0.45kg each, and narrow, with curved tips and a cambered midsection, which are thicker and arched. Free technique skis are about 10cm to 15 cm shorter for greater manoeuvrability. They are also stiffer and have tips that curve less than classical technique skis. The underside of both types of skis has a groove down the centre to keep the ski straight when going downhill.
Target: Biathlon uses metal drop down targets that consist of a white target face plate with five target apertures, behind which are five independently operating knock down, falling plate scoring targets. The scoring plates must be black. A hit must be indicated by the black target circle being replaced by a white indicator disk. The target size has a diameter of 30mm for visually impaired athletes (class B) and 20mm for athletes with a physical disability (class LW).
Biathlon for athletes with a physical disability was first introduced at the Paralympic Games at Innsbruck, Austria in 1988. It became a medal event for men and women at the Lillehammer Games in 1994 where, for the first time Nordic skiers competed at the same venue used for the Olympic Winter Games.