USA’s pioneering biathlete gearing up for fourth Games
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.
Not only did Bailey win the first ever world title in biathlon for the USA, he was also the first athlete from his country to book a place at PyeongChang 2018, where he will be making his fourth appearance at the Games, by which time he will be 36. Regardless of his age, Bailey will not be lacking in confidence when the big event comes around.
“Just over 24 hours ago I crossed the line in first place at World Championships in Austria,” he wrote on his website on 17 February 2017, the day after his stunning win. “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 USABiathlon 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. 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 loopIn 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 Bø and Ole Einar Bjørndalen (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 over the chasing Moravec and Fourcade.
“The last loop seemed to last 40km, not 4 km,” said Bailey, who proved a popular winner. “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 waitAn accomplished guitarist, the music-loving Bailey has a very long career behind him, having competed at three junior world championships, ten 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).
Biathlon fanaticHailing 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 has been a stalwart of the USA team for many years and is now enjoying long-awaited success in his 11th season 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.”
Destination PyeongChangHaving pondered retirement in 2016 when his wife Erica gave birth to their first child Ophelia, Bailey is now happily preparing for his fourth Olympic Winter Games. Canada is the only country outside Europe ever to have won an Olympic medal in biathlon since the sport’s introduction on the programme in 1960, a little piece of history the intrepid American will be hoping to change in the Republic of Korea.
“It’s a huge confidence boost,” he added, looking ahead to PyeongChang 2018. “I think the great thing about biathlon and why it’s such an important and popular sport is just how competitive it is. I know that I can walk out there on any given day and I have a chance of winning. And there’s 60 to 100 other guys that have that same chance, and it’s a realistic chance.
“And that’s the great thing about this sport. So I’m really excited about PyeongChang. I’m really looking forward to this next season, and I’ll work as hard as I can to make this happen again.”