A biathlon competition consists of a race in which contestants ski around a cross-country trail system, and where the total distance is broken up by either two or four shooting rounds, half in prone position, the other half standing. Depending on the shooting performance, extra distance or time is added to the contestant's total running distance/time. As in most races, the contestant with the shortest total time wins.
For each shooting round, the biathlete must hit five targets; each missed target must be "atoned for" in one of three ways, depending on the competition format:
· by skiing around a 150-metre (490 ft) penalty loop, typically taking 20–30 seconds for top-level biathletes to complete (running time depending on weather/snow conditions),
· by having one minute added to a skier's total time, or
· by having to use an "extra cartridge" (placed at the shooting range) to finish off the target; only three such "extras" are available for each round, and a penalty loop must be made for each of the targets left standing.
In order to keep track of the contestants' progress and relative standing throughout a race, split times (intermediate times) are taken at several points along the skiing track and upon finishing each shooting round. The large display screens commonly set up at biathlon arenas, as well as the information graphics shown as part of the TV picture, will typically list the split time of the fastest contestant at each intermediate point and the times and time differences to the closest runners-up.
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