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Biathlon became an Olympic sport in 1960 at Squaw Valley.


Winter Olympics

TORINO, Italy (CNN) -- Biathlon combines cross-country skiing and shooting.

It originally evolved in northern Europe as a means of hunting over long distances and defending territory from hostile armies.

How it is done

There are 10 events in the Olympic program in four disciplines. In the sprint, competitors must ski a course (7.5km for women and 10km for men) stopping twice -- once standing and once prone -- to shoot at five targets with five bullets. For each target missed, competitors complete a 150m penalty lap adjoining the main course.

The top 60 after the sprint compete in the pursuit (10km for women and 12.5 for men), starting the event at intervals based on their sprint finishing times. This time, competitors stop four times to shoot at the five targets with five bullets. A lap of the penalty loop is in store for each target missed.

Competitors also stop four times in the individual event, held over 15km for women and 20km for men. Again, there are five targets to hit with five bullets, but in this event one minute is added to the competitor's overall time for each miss.

A team of four competes in the relay, with each member completing a 7.5km course. The first skiers of each team all start together. Each competitor must stop twice at the firing range, but is given three extra bullets (making eight in all) to hit five targets, although they must be loaded one at a time. For each target missed, one penalty lap must be skied.

What makes it hard

The targets are only 45 millimetres in diameter and are 50 meters away from the shooter.

After skiing a lap of the course as fast as possible, a competitor's heart rate will be quicker and their breathing heavier than normal, making it harder to control the accuracy of the shot. Biathletes try to reduce their breathing and heart rate when shooting -- top class competitors shoot five times in 20 seconds.

When shooting in the prone position, a competitor's elbows may touch the ground but the wrists may not.

Wind and light conditions also vary from course to course and from day to day and even from lap to lap during an event.

Decoding the Jargon

You may hear some unfamiliar terms in the expert commentary at the biathlon during the Games. Here is what some of them mean:

Clicks: When shooting, biathletes may have to adjust the sights on their rifles to account for changing conditions -- such as wind or sun -- on the course. The amount of change is measured in "clicks" to the left or right.

Shoot clean: The term used when a biathlete hits all five targets with five bullets in a shooting stage.

Declared rounds: When a biathlete arrives at the shooting range during the relay event, the three extra extras must be placed in a cup at the shooting point before shooting commences. They are known as "declared rounds" which can only be loaded one at a time after the first five bullets have been fired.

Which means you can sound like an expert by saying: "If he'd gone a click to the left he would have shot clean. He'll have plenty to think about on the penalty lap."

Did you know?

Cave paintings dating back 2,000 years are said to have been found in Norway, apparently depicting hunters in skis stalking game with weapons.

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