The Usa’s first biathlon world champion
Lowell Bailey’s thrilling sprint to gold in the individual 20km at the 2017 IBU World Championships had the fans out of their seats at the Hochfilzen Biathlon Stadium and left TV commentators around the world hoarse with excitement. The USA’s first gold medallist in the sport, he was also the first athlete from his country to earn selection for PyeongChang 2018, where he brought his career to an end at the age of 36.
“Just over 24 hours ago, I crossed the line in first place at the World Championships in Austria,” he wrote on his website on 17 February 2017, the day after his stunning win in Hochfilzen. “Just writing that statement seems surreal; and that is exactly what the last 24 hours have felt like. I have been overwhelmed with the outpouring of support from fans across the world, sending congratulatory messages, reflections on where they were and what they were doing when the news flashed onto the video feed: Bailey… Gold Medal… by 3.3 second margin.”
A full set of titles for the USA
Biathlon was the only Olympic winter sport in which the USA had never won a world title, a record Bailey put straight with his superb performance on a course he knew well. It capped a fine championships for the American, who also placed fourth in the sprint and sixth in the pursuit.
“It’s a huge confidence boost,” he said. “The last two days have been the best world championship results of my career, and that gives me the confidence going forward with my training and my approach to PyeongChang to really attack the races here.”
An eternal last loop
In the pursuit, Bailey lay second behind France’s Martin Fourcade following the fourth and final visit to the shooting range, but was then caught and overtaken on the final lap by Norwegian duo Johannes Boe and Ole Einar Bjoerndalen (who won silver and bronze respectively), Anton Shipulin of Russia and the Czech Republic’s Ondrej Moravec.
Three days later, the American veteran showed no signs of fatigue in the individual 20km. Wearing bib no.100, he hit all 20 targets on the range and held on to his lead in the closing kilometres to win from the chasing Moravec and Fourcade.
“The last loop seemed to last 40km, not 4 km,” said Bailey, who proved a popular victor. “After the pursuit, and watching the medal go away from me, I replayed this last loop in my head probably a thousand times the last three days, told myself if I ever have that chance again, that I can’t let that medal get away. I just kept saying that in the last loop today. It’s a dream. It’s like a Disney film.”
Worth the wait
An accomplished guitarist, the music-loving Bailey has a very long career behind him, having competed at three junior world championships, 10 IBU World Championships, three Olympic Games and in over 300 World Cup races, recording several top-10 finishes along the way.
After missing out on a place at Salt Lake City 2002, he gave up biathlon for three years to concentrate on NCAA college skiing. When he returned to the sport he had to wait until the 2013/14 season to score his first top-three finish in an IBU World Cup race, in the sprint in Kontiolahti (FIN).
Hailing from Siler City in North Carolina, not a place known for producing biathletes, Bailey has come a long way in the sport. Based in Lake Placid, he was a stalwart of the USA team for many years and savoured his long-awaited success after many seasons on the international circuit.
"I enjoy every aspect of the sport,” he said after his stunning World Championship win. “I enjoy the daily challenges, even if it’s just myself out on the course, working on small improvements that I can make. But really, every day that I go out and train, there’s something I’m working on. It’s fresh and it’s new and I think that’s why I’m 35 years old and still doing the sport.”
Pyeongchang 2018 and out
While he came close to retiring in 2016, when his wife Erica gave birth to their first child, Ophelia, Bailey carried on until PyeongChang 2018. Competing in five events at his fourth Olympic Games, he achieved his best placing in the relay, finishing sixth with his US team-mates.
Bailey then paired up with Susan Dunklee to land bronze in the single mixed relay at the 2018 IBU Open European Championships in Ridnaun/Val Ridanna (ITA). It was the final act of his 19-year career that included 339 World Cup starts and a world title win that made him a pioneering figure in US biathlon.