Former coach overwhelmed by Lowell Bailey’s victory

A teenaged Lowell Bailey of Lake Placid, left, and Tim Burke of Paul Smiths smile at their first international biathlon race in the mid 1990s in Torsby, Sweden. Their coach at the time, Kris Cheney-Seymour, keeps this photo on the wall of his office at the Mount Vane Hoevenberg Cross-Country Ski Center outside Lake Placid. (Photo provided — Kris Cheney-Seymour)

People in and around Lowell Bailey’s hometown of Lake Placid have seen him come close to being the best in the world over and over again in more than 20 years of international biathlon competition. To see him have a “perfect race,” as a former coach put it, and win a World Championship gold medal Thursday was overwhelming to those closest to his career.

Bailey moved to Lake Placid from Old Forge when he was 10 years old. He and Tim Burke of Paul Smiths have raced against each other and followed the same path up the nordic ski circuit since they were 6. Burke’s silver medal in 2013 tied Joshua Thompson’s 1987 result as the best ever for an American in a World Championship — until Bailey bested it Thursday.

“Now there’s only one left to accomplish: the one in the Olympics,” said Kris Cheney-Seymour, Bailey and Burke’s former coach. No U.S. biathlete has ever won an Olympic medal.

Cheney-Seymour, who grew up in Saranac Lake, helped convert Bailey and other local skiers to biathlon in their early teens. The first class of local young biathletes consisted of Bailey, Burke, Haley Johnson of Lake Placid, Annelies Cook of Saranac Lake and Katie Demong of Vermontville. All became Olympic biathletes except Demong, although her older brother Bill was an Olympic gold medalist in nordic combined.

Now Cheney-Seymour lives near Bloomingdale and runs the state-owned nordic ski center at Mount Van Hoevenberg. Because he’s busy preparing for upcoming races, he wasn’t watching Thursday’s biathlon World Championship race live, figuring he’d catch the replay — until fellow Olympic venue manager Tony Carlino called him and told him to jump on the internet and watch biathlon immediately. He was just in time to catch the end, with Bailey crossing the finish line victorious.

In the 15 minutes or so between then and talking to the Enterprise “I’ve pretty much spent sitting in my office crying,” he said.

“I had the same emotion as when Bill Demong won his Olympic gold. I was totally overwhelmed with tears of joy — with Lowell, who never gave up who always persevered, who never let go of his dreams and kept pushing toward the singular goal he’s had since he was a teenager.

“I’m proud of him,” he added as he choked back more tears, “what it means for our country, for our community at Mount Van Hoevenberg and for every kid who had a dream as a cross-country skier.”

Bailey was in eighth grade when Cheney-Seymour became his coach, continuing with him through high school and then again for three years in northern Maine in the 2000s.

Since then, Bailey, 35, has competed in three Olympics and this week qualified for his fourth, the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea — the first American to do so. But international competition is brutally tough. His best Olympic result was eighth place in the 2014 individual, and he has made the podium only once before in top-tier competition, a silver medal in a 2014 World Cup-level sprint.

“He’s had so many times in his career that he has almost found this moment, and on this day he had a perfect race … and was faster than everyone else. And for him — it’s an incredible gift for Lowell Bailey and his coaches and people involved and his process and his time and his development in biathlon, but it’s an incredible gift for the nordic community of the United States, for his home, for the children who look up and admire him. Lowell has always been gracious with his time with the kids of Lake Placid and Saranac Lake.”

Bailey has often come to ski and speak with kids at Lake Placid Elementary School and Dewey Mountain Recreation Center in Saranac Lake, among other places. He now has a young daughter of his own.

“I know Lowell as someone who cares deeply about his sport and his community and the future of biathlon,” Cheney-Seymour said. “Today he helped fuel a new generation of biathletes to feel like they could do it.”