Competition at the Highest Levels



Biathlon is an exciting sport that combines cross-country ski racing with target shooting. The first medal competition for Paralympic biathlon was only 20 years ago, at the 1994 Games in Lillehammer, Norway.

Biathlon athletes need speed, endurance, and the most precise hand-eye -- or hand-ear – coordination and accuracy.

Athletes race, on stand-up skis or sit-skis, as fast as possible three to five times around a course that can total as much as 9 miles. Twice during the race they make a hard stop at the shooting station, set their rifles, and aim at targets plates. A miss is costly: a time penalty added to the athlete’s overall racing time, or an extra penalty loop to ski once per missed shot.

Rifles - air or CO2 guns with a five-shot clip. The athlete does not carry the rifle during the race, it stays at the shooting station.

For visually impaired athletes, the rifles have electro-acoustic systems that produce guide sounds. Their rifles shoot a laser beam at the target.

Targets – made of metal and placed 33 feet away. Size of the bulls-eye: a little over an inch wide for visually impaired athletes, a little under an inch for athletes with other disabilities.

Skis - Paralympic biathlon includes standing races for sighted and visually impaired athletes, and sit-ski events for athletes who use a wheelchair.

Athletes with visual impairments may ski with a sighted guide. The guide skis in front, calling out information about turns and terrain.

At the shooting stations, the guide steps aside and the athlete sets up to shoot. He puts on headphones, raises the rifle and acquires the target by sound: the closer the rifle points to the bulls-eye, the higher the tone.

For visually impaired biathletes, a miss feeds back what one called “a very depressing sound.”

In international competition, biathlon is considered a separate sport from nordic cross-country racing. In the US, cross-country and biathlon athletes compete as one team, in either sport or both.

Class Disability

LW 2-4

Skiers with leg impairments who can ski standing up

LW 5-8

Skiers with impairment in one or both arms. These skiers ski standing, but use one or no poles, depending on their class

LW 9

Skiiers with impairments in both arms and legs who can ski standing. They can ski with one or two ski poles

LW 10-12

Sit-skiers, athletes with impairments in their legs. They are placed into these classes depending on their trunk control, very important for accelerating and balancing


Skiers with visual disabilities, including low visual acuity and restricted field of vision. B1 athletes, who are blind or have very low acuity, wear black eyeshades and ski with a guide. B2 and B3 athletes have the choice of skiing with or without a guide.

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