Bailey’s father credits hard work, Adirondacks for win

Lowell, left, and George Bailey, both musicians, perform in the George Bailey Trio at the Mountain Music Meltdown festival on June 30, 2007, in Saranac Lake. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

Lowell Bailey’s father George says only those closest to his son know the depth of his commitment to biathlon training, especially after he decided not to retire last year.

“There’s probably only a handful of people who know how hard he’s worked to come to this moment,” George Bailey said Thursday after Lowell won a World Championship gold medal, the first for an American in biathlon. “It’s a little emotional because of that, because of the years and years of saying, ‘I can’t come to your event tonight because I’ve got to train.’ He never varied for 20 years in his approach to training.”

After some disappointing performances in recent years, however, Lowell almost hung up his rifle and skis.

“After a couple of seasons of sort of erratic things, I think he felt like, ‘Well, the odds are long, and I’m not getting younger,'” George said.

Lowell, 35, had planned on last season being his final one, but an unexpected job offer at a biathlon center in Bozeman, Montana, changed that plan. The offer came with the stipulation that if he competes through the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic Winter Games, there would be a job waiting for him after that season.

“Once he decided he was going to keep skiing, the level of commitment he has put into it, I think it went to 110 percent in the last couple years,” George Bailey said. “How hard he’s worked and trained and focused is definitely part of the story.”

Lowell had already punched his ticket to his fourth Olympic Winter Games when he placed sixth in Sunday’s 12.5K pursuit. His fourth place Saturday had been Team USA’s best finish in the 10-kilometer sprint in world championships history.

“He’s been knocking on the door the last number of seasons. I’ve just watched him steadily improve his shooting. The few that slipped away, I just had that funny feeling that he wasn’t going to let that happen too many times in a row.”

George, a retired Lake Placid teacher, watched Thursday’s race on his computer at his home in Paul Smiths.

“They weren’t covering him on the main feed, so I checked the data after the second shoot, and I saw he had shot clean for the first two,” George Bailey said. “At that moment I thought, ‘OK, He’s on track. He’s having a good day, and he knows that if he has a great day, he can get on the podium.'”

Lowell was being covered by the main Eurovision feed when he shot for the fourth time, but that’s when George Bailey said his computer screen froze.

“I thought, ‘You know, it’s probably not a good thing I’m watching this,” he said. “The screen unfroze about a minute later, and I thought he must’ve missed one because they weren’t following him. Then I checked the data and said, ‘No. He shot clean.’ Once the announcers realized he was in contention for the gold medal, they were following him and it was very exciting.”

George said he cheered as his son crossed the finished line.

“It’s just a wonderful thing. It’s history making,” he said. “I don’t think I’m going to be able to sit still all day. I’m going to go out and ski. I think that’s a way to celebrate in the most appropriate way I can.”

Lowell shared the podium in Austria today with his wife Erika and their seven-month-old daughter Ophelia. The family have a home in Lake Placid.

Lowell was born in North Carolina, moved to Old Forge as a preschooler and has lived in Lake Placid since he was 10 years old.

George Bailey said his son owes his success to the Adirondacks as a whole.

“It’s a place where if you love winter and you love snow, I can’t think of any other place where you’ll get the support of the community and have the opportunities he’s had,” George Bailey said. “The other thing is, we grew up as a family skiing for fun. For him, skiing isn’t just something you do as a sport. It’s a way of life. I think a lot of the joy and passion he has for skiing comes from being a kid on skis with his family. It isn’t just the last few years or the people around him now, it’s really the whole Adirondack Park.”