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Tuesday, January 1, 2002
Fan Guide

By ESPN.com news services

The altitude will be a major factor for the cross country skiers and biathletes. At the Nagano Games in 1998, the biathlon course was at 2,034 feet (620 Meters), but in 2002 at Soldier Hollow the high point will be 5,882.5 feet (1,793 meters), which is just under the course maximum of 5,905.5 feet (1,800 meters) allowed by the International Biathlon Union.

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Biathlon

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Biathlon

Cross Country


BIATHLON

Olympic competition dates: Feb. 11, Feb. 13, Feb. 16, Feb. 18, Feb. 20
Venue: Soldier Hollow

The word biathlon actually means dual event but it has become known as the sport that combines cross-country skiing with precision target shooting. With military origins, biathlon was a demonstration sport at the first Winter Games in Chamonix, France, in 1924. It continued to be demonstrated in 1928, 1936 and 1948 but after World War II, anti-military sentiment caused the program to be dropped until 1960.

It's popularity has grown and biathlon is now the No. 1 watched winter sport in Europe with millions of viewers, according to U.S.A. Biathlon.

The United States has never won a medal in biathlon.

The outlook
Men: 1998 gold medalist Ole Einar Bjoerndalen of Norway remains the one to beat despite training for cross-country as well. Russian Pavel Rostovtsen and German Frank Luck have closed the gap at the top this season, along with France's Raphael Poiree.

Women: Sweden's Magdalena Forsberg has been the sport's dominant woman since 1997, but she's looking for her first Olympic medal. She has won five straight overall World Cup titles and is on her way toward a sixth. Her precise shooting, which was her downfall in Nagano, makes her a gold-medal favorite again in the 15K individual, 7.5K sprint and 10K pursuit.

The finer points
Biathletes must be able to strain to the physical limits, then immediately calm the body and slow the heartbeat to shoot a .22 caliber rifle, which they carry on their back as they ski, at small targets 50 meters away. When the biathlete is standing, targets are 115 millimeters, slightly larger than a CD. When the biathlete is prone (lying on the stomach) the target is 45 millimeters, about the size of a silver dollar.

During the 20 km race for men and the 15 km race for women, competitors shoot five rounds four times, alternating prone, standing, prone, standing. In the sprints and relay, athletes shoot twice, first prone then standing. In individual events, biathletes take one shot at each of the five targets but have an additional three shots per session in the relay.

In pursuit, after completing the sprint qualifying portion of 10 km for men and 7.5 km for women, competitors shoot five rounds four times with a different format: prone, prone, standing, standing. Athletes who are better at shooting in a certain position can overtake competitors in the unique pursuit format.

A miss results in a penalty. In the individual events, each missed shot adds one minute to the overall time. In the sprints and relays, a 150-meter penalty loop must be completed for each miss, generally adding about 30 seconds per loop to the time.

What's new
The pursuit will be a medal event for the first time.

CROSS COUNTRY

Olympic competition dates: Feb. 9, Feb. 12, Feb. 14-15, Feb. 19, Feb. 21, Feb. 23-24
Venue: Soldier Hollow

Cross country mixes speed and endurance. For years, cross country skiers used only a diagonal stride where both skis stay in prepared tracks, however, in the 1982 World Cup season, Bill Koch of Vermont made the skating technique -- also called freestyle -- popular.

The ideal race course is one-third rolling terrain, one-third uphill and one-third downhill, but mountains don't always coorporate. The recent trend has been to include more vertical climb, which favors power skiers.

The outlook
Men: After finishing 10th in his race in Nagano, Sweden's Per Elofsson is primed for greatness at these games. The 2001 world champion could win five medals and challenge the sport's Olympic record of three golds. Sweden won just one medal in 1998, a silver.

Women: With the 1.5K sprints a new event, there should be a good duel between Katerina Newmanova of the Czech Republic and Bente Skari of Norway. They're also 1-2 in this season's World Cup standings.

The finer points
Competitors use either classical or freestyle technique.

In classical competitions, skiers keep their skis parallel on flat terrain and use a diagonal stride with skis apart on uphill stretches. Freestyle means all stride varieties are permitted with the most common being a skating motion.

Individual races have competitors starting at 30-second intervals. In relays, all competitors begin together. The pursuit competition consists of two races. Results from the first race determine the starting order for the second race, and the first skier across the finish line in the second race is the overall winner.