Biathlon 101: Buzzwords of biathletes


Arm sling 

A belt used to stabilize the rifle and the biathlete’s arm while shooting in the prone position. 


Attach a skier’s feet to their skis by the toe of the boot only, giving their heels the freedom to flex up and down.


Slight adjustments for wind, sun angle and temperature are made by moving the rear apertures of the rifle sight in different directions. The amount of change is measured by clicks turned. Prior to an event, coaches assist athletes to make adjustments, however, although coaches chart each shot taken during competition using magnified spotting scopes, they are not allowed to call out corrections to the athletes during a race.  


Used to hold five .22 caliber rifle cartridges. Up to four clips can be stored in the rifle stock while the biathlete skis the course. At the range the clips are taken from the stock and inserted into the rifle as needed. 

Chase group

Biathletes in the pursuit event who start the race after the gold medalists of the individual event and sprint event are given a head start.

Declared rounds

In relay events, eight bullets are carried in each clip. The five-round clips are used first in an attempt to hit all five targets. If more rounds are needed, the extra, declared rounds may then be hand loaded one at a time to attempt to knock down any remaining targets. For each target not hit the biathlete must ski one penalty loop.

Firing lane

The 50-meter (164 feet) space between the firing line and the target in the shooting portion of the competition. Competitors shoot from different lanes. 

Fortner Action

Made by Anschutz, the preferred type of rifle action used in biathlon. The “straight-pull” action is pulled back to eject the spent round and pushed forward to load the next round into the chamber from the magazine.

Handover zone

Marked by red lines, the area of the relay course where one teammate tags off to the next teammate. 

Penalty loop

Loop of 150 meters that must be skied when targets are missed during the sprint, pursuit and relay events. One loop is skied for every target missed and takes anywhere between 20 and 30 seconds. No penalty loops are used in the individual events, instead a one-minute penalty is added for each missed target.

Prone position

Lying down on the stomach, used while shooting. The rifle can only be in contact with the athlete’s hands, shoulder and cheek.

Salting the course

In all alpine and Nordic skiing events, it is sometimes essential to spread rock salt on the course. When snow becomes too soft during the day, throwing a layer of salt on the course will cause it to melt slightly, then lower overnight temperatures refreeze the run, creating a harder, more desirable course for racing. 

Shoot clean

Act of hitting all five targets during one shooting stage, also known as a shooting bout.

Shooting mat

A non-slip mat from which a biathlete shoots. 


A biathlon rifle is equipped with two targeting sights. A biathlete will peer through a rear site, which is attached to the rifle action, just above the firing trigger. The rear sight features two zeroing knobs. One knob adjusts the vertical position of the sight, while the second allows for horizontal changes. A front sight is mounted to the end of the rifle barrel, and has a special snow cover which is kept closed while an athlete is skiing on the course. Upon entering the shooting range a biathlete will quickly open the cover before shooting. Niether sight is magnified.

Skating technique

The most basic cross-country skiing technique used in all Olympic biathlon races; also known as freestyle. Longer poles are used to drive skiers forward, gliding out onto the right leg and then back to the left leg. Variations of this skiing technique are used when climbing hills. No pre-cut ski tracks are used as in the classical technique seen in cross-country events.


The shooting position where athletes stand without any support. The rifle can only come in contact with the athlete’s hands, shoulder, cheek and chest next to the shoulder.


Targets on the range start out black and once hit a white metal plate flips up in its place. Target area size differs for standing and prone targets:  11.5cm (4.5in) diameter for standing, and just 4.5cm (less than two inches) for prone.


Time spent before the race shooting paper targets to align the rifle sights. When zeroed, the rifle is accurate for the particular wind and light conditions on the range at that time. Biathletes may also make adjustments to their sights during a race.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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