Lowell Bailey ends US drought with gold medal
Lake Placid resident Lowell Bailey put an emphatic end to the United States medal drought at the IBU World Championships on Thursday by winning the grueling 20-kilometer race in Hochfilzen, Austria.
The 35-year-old Bailey, a three-time Olympian on his way to a fourth Olympic Games next year in Pyeonchang, hit all 20 targets and skied a remarkable final kilometer to edge Ondrej Moravec of Czech Republic by 3.3 seconds.
Before Thursday, biathlon was the only Winter Olympic sport where the U.S. had yet to win and Olympic or world title, going back to 1958 for the world championships and 1960 for the Olympic program.
Starting No. 100 of the 101 entrants, Bailey was one of only three athletes to shoot clean with Moravec being one of the others. When Bailey left the final shooting stage, he had a 6.4-second lead on Moravec, but he began to lose time in the slushy snow that was brought on by the sun and temperatures hovering around 48 degrees Fahrenheit.
With 1.1K to go, Bailey’s lead was cut to one-tenth of a second and Moravec was caught on camera starting to smile. However, Bailey called upon the not-too-distant memory of Sunday’s pursuit race where he wound up sixth after being in second place going into the final ski loop.
“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,” Bailey said. “I just told myself if I ever have that chance again, that I can’t let that medal go away. So I kept saying that in the last loop today.”
Bailey used his skiing skills to claw back time over the final kilometer and pull out the victory over Moravec, with France’s Martin Fourcade taking the bronze medal with two penalties, 21.2 seconds back of Bailey.
“The last loop felt like it was 40 kilometers long, not four kilometers long,” Bailey said. “I was fortunate that I was one of the last starters. I had every member from our staff shout their heads off at me. I thought to myself, ‘Don’t let the medal go away, just keep going.'”
“Lowell is a very good downhill skier and the last kilometer is pretty technical,” said U.S. Biathlon Chief of Sport Bernd Eisenbichler. “Everyone worked so hard to get to this point. Lowell skied the perfect race today with great support. It has taken him 15 years to get to this point and I am so happy and proud for Lowell and my staff with how hard they’ve worked.”
Bailey is enjoying the best week of his career at the IBU World Championships, having finished fourth in the sprint, sixth in the pursuit, and now first in the individual race, but he was still in disbelief over today’s result.
“I am waiting for someone to wake me up. It’s all cliches: ‘it’s unbelievable, it’s like a dream.’ It means so much because of all the hard work that went into this medal and all of the support that I’ve had; it all has paid off.”
Bailey was also quick to point out the significance of his win for the U.S. team.
“It is special for me to share this medal with the staff from our team,” he said. “I am just so happy that I am here with this team. I could not have done it without them. I have wanted a world championships medal for so long. It’s still sinking in.”
Bailey also drew praise from Moravec.
“It was exciting,” Moravec said of the race. “In the beginning it looked better for me, but I am so happy for his gold medal. He is a good guy and he deserves it.”
Leif Nordgren, of Minnesota, also enjoyed a fine day on the tracks and in the range, hitting 18 of 20 targets to finish 23rd. Paul Smiths native Tim Burke and Sean Doherty, of New Hampshire, both missed four targets to place 36th and 58th, respectively.
“It was not a great day for me on the range but none of that matters when you watch your teammate and training partner of 20 years become world champion,” Burke said. “Lowell and I have been through so much together so I know exactly how much he deserves this medal. This will also give the entire team a huge confidence boost heading into the last races at world championships.”
Bailey has qualified for one more individual race at the IBU World Championships, the men’s mass start on Sunday. Before that, the American relay teams will take to the tracks in Hochfilzen with the women’s 4x6K relay on Friday and the men’s 4×7.5km relay on Saturday. Both relays begin at 8:45 a.m. EST and will be streamed live on Eurovision.