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Thank you, Lowell Bailey

February 13, 2014 - Chris Knight
My highlight of the Sochi Games, so far, came Thursday night, when biathlete Lowell Bailey of Lake Placid put down the performance he's waited three Olympics for.

For some people, eighth place might not seem like a big deal. But Bailey's eighth-place result in the men's 20-kilometer individual race is the best ever Olympic result in biathlon for the United States. That's saying a lot. We're talking about dozens and dozens of athletes who've competed for the U.S. in biathlon over the years. Lowell stands at the top of that mountain right now.

To be honest, I had no idea what was going on in this race until the very end. In the shorter races, like last Saturday's 10k sprint, there's not enough time to get out on the course to take pictures, so you're near the stadium and can see how each athlete is shooting.

This time, with a 20k race that lasts typically 50 minutes, I had plenty of time to get out on the course and try a few different photo angles and positions. Unfortunately, however, I didn't know how many targets Lowell or Tim Burke had made or missed until I reached the mix zone, where the athletes and news media can mingle after the race.

Even there, so many people were crowding around the TVs it was tough to see where our guys were ranked. Finally, I looked up at the scoreboard and saw Lowell, who started 58th, getting ready to shoot his fourth and final set of targets at the range. It showed 0-1-0 on the screen next to his name, meaning he only had missed one target in his first three bouts of shooting.

"Lowell's only missed one shot so far," I excitedly told a group of U.S. journalists gathered nearby. Like me, they were just as clueless about where things stood until then.

As Bailey fired off five shots in a row and hit his last targets clean, I let out a little cheer and pumped my fist. Ethically, I know I probably shouldn't be showing any favoritism toward any of these athletes, but it's incredibly hard to restrain the urge to want to root hard and out loud for them.

While Bailey skied his final lap, I kept scanning the scoreboard for Burke's name. Eventually it came up showing he had finished with missed four targets. In the individual race, each miss is an additional minute added to the athlete's score. There's no way Tim could make up that amount of time.

Finally, I looked up and saw Bailey making his final pass in front of the stands to the finish line. His name was at the bottom of the screen. As he crossed the red line, his name moved up to eighth place on the leader board. I jumped up in the air and said "Yes! That's a great finish for him."

As we waited for Bailey to come through the mix zone, I thought about this very scene two days earlier. Bailey had walked around the maze of press with his head down, so upset by his 38th place in the pursuit. He wouldn't answer any questions. I really felt for him. I wondered if he could rebound from that kind of disappointment or if this would be another Olympic let-down for him.

Thursday night, we saw a very different Lowell Bailey. When he came over to us, I congratulated him and asked, "How'd you feel about that race today?" He sighed and let out a deep breath and said, "I feel a lot better than I did the last two races."

You can read all about the rest of the conversation in the Enterprise.

All I can say is it was one of the most memorable interviews I've had in my career. A man goes from the wells of despair to the height of joy and redemption in a span of 72 hours. That's what the Olympic spirit is all about.

The crazy thing about it is, Bailey was one missed target away from being an Olympic medalist. I'm sure he's not going to fret over it, but I think that says something about how good the U.S. men's and women's biathlon teams are, especially to those who are new to the sport in an Olympic year. The other night, Susan Dunklee was one shooting bout away from a medal. There's no doubt these athletes have the talent to break that glass ceiling and get on the Olympic podium. It's just a matter of time.


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