Biathlon vs. Duathlon

Man loading a rifle

While some people are content to exercise for the sake of exercising, others prefer the challenge and motivation of an organized event. Triathlons have increased in popularity over the past several years, but other multi-sport competitions still attract a dedicated following. Although biathlon and duathlon both refer to two sports occurring in a single race, these two events are not the same.

Duathlon Defined

A typical duathlon consists of running and cycling. Participants begin with a run, followed by a bike leg and then run again to finish the race. People who like the idea of a triathlon, but who don't enjoy swimming may find a duathlon suits them better. Duathlons have been taking place as organized events since the 1980s. The event used to be known as biathlon, but in the 1990s, the name had to be changed to duathlon to avoid conflicts with the term biathlon used in the Olympics. Although the triathlon is currently an Olympic event, the duathlon is not.

Biathlon Defined

A biathlon can refer to any two sports occurring during one race event. Most commonly these two sports are cross-country skiing and rifle shooting. These two sports reflect the biathlon's Scandinavian origins, where men on skis carrying rifles patrolled and defended their borders. The biathlon was first included in the 1924 winter Olympics and continues to be an Olympic event.

Winter vs. Summer

Typically, the biathlon is a winter event, while the duathlon is considered a summer event. The two events can switch seasons, although the summer biathlon and winter duathlon aren't as common. In the summer biathlon, competitors give up the cross-country skiing leg for a running leg. Winter duathlons drop the cycling portion of the event and have a cross-country skiing leg in between the two running legs.


In the individual biathlon, male participants ski for 12 miles and women ski 9 miles. The sprint biathlon reduces these distances by about half. In either event, shooters must hit a target that is 160 feet away. The sprint distance duathlon consists of a 2-mile run, 10-mile bike ride and another 2-mile run. In the short distance duathlon, racers must run 8 miles, bike 24 miles and run another 8 miles. Men and women cover the same distance. Duathlons can be much longer depending on the event organizer.