Biathlon, a combination of nordic cross-country ski racing and rifle shooting, developed from a form of military training in northern Europe. World championships began in 1958 and Olympic inclusion dates from 1960. The foremost exponents are servicemen, who are ideally situated for training. The most successful competitors have been Russians, Norwegians, Swedes, and Finns. Vladimir Melanin (USSR) has won most world titles.
Championship events, for individuals and teams of four, are decided over 20 km cross-country courses, the competitors, or biathletes, carrying rifles throughout. Each skier shoots at targets on four rifle ranges spaced at 4-kilometre intervals along the course, firing five rounds at each range. The distance of each range is different, 100, 150, 200 and 250 m. An upright stance is compulsory at the 100 m range, but for each of the longer distances the shooter may choose a standing, kneeling or prone position. The biathlete's overall time, both while skiing and on the ranges, is penalised by a two-minute addition for each shot which misses its target. The sport is a challenging test of stamina, marksmanship and skiing ability in all weathers, and its usefulness in military training is self-, evident.