December 16 - The first International Paralympic Committee (IPC) biathlon and cross-country skiing World Cup of the 2009/2010 winter season kicks off today in Sjusjoen, Norway.

The competition - which takes place until December 20 - will see over 130 athletes from 18 countries compete in  biathlon and cross-country skiing in three different categories: sitting, standing and visually impaired.

Today and tomorrow, athletes will compete in cross-country skiing events, both on the long and the middle distance.

After a day's break, the World Cup will continue with the Biathlon Pursuit on Saturday and the biathlon long distance race on Sunday.

With only 87 days to go until the Opening Ceremony of the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, athletes are eager to start the season in fine form.

Amongst the star-studded field are many successful competitors from the previous winter seasons such as Ilkka Tuomisto (pictured) of Finland, winner of the overall cross-country skiing World Cup ranking in 2008-2009 in the men’s standing category and Ukraine's Olena Iurkovska, who won the overall biathlon World Cup ranking in 2008-2009 in Women’s sitting.

Cross-Country skiing was actually on the programme at the first ever Paralympic Winter Games in 1976 in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden.

However, Biathlon was first introduced to the Games at the Lillehammer 1994 Winter Paralympics.

Both sports are governed by the IPC through the IPC Nordic Skiing Sport Technical Committee following modified rules of the International Ski Federation (FIS) and the International Biathlon Union (IBU).