Biathlete Lowell Bailey made history in Hochfilzen, Austria today, winning the first world championship gold ever, in any biathlon event, for the United States in the 20km individual event, while solidifying his position on the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team heading to PyeongChang. Starting 100th in a field of 102 racers Bailey knocked down all 20 targets on his way to the top podium spot.
Upon leaving his final shooting bout 6.4 seconds under the lead, Bailey pushed toward the finish line with teammates and coaches on the course encouraging him to empty the tank. In a race where athletes set off in a staggered start and race against the clock, current leader Ondrej Moravec, of the Czech Republic, could only stare down the scoreboard in hopes that his time of 48 minutes 10.4 seconds would be enough to hold off the charging American.
As Bailey skied his final loop, he appeared to be leaking time, possibly due to the late starting position and snow piling up on the course, which makes skiing more difficult. At one point Bailey’s lead slipped to just 0.1 seconds, but as he skidded into the stadium, the roar of the passionate biathlon crowd vaulted him into first place, crossing the line with 3.3 seconds to spare.
Moravec’s time did win the Czech the silver, with Martin Fourcade of France taking bronze.
Joined on the podium by his wife, Erika, and their baby girl, Ophelia, Bailey recounted the disappointment he had earlier this week in Austria, when his chance at a medal in the pursuit event slipped away in his final 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 on the podium. “I just told myself if I ever have that chance again that I can’t let that medal go away, and so I just kept saying that in the last loop today.”
At 35-years old, Lowell Bailey was on the verge of retirement before this season, but he accepted a job offer at a new biathlon/cross-country training and recreation center in Bozeman, Montana. One of the job requirements – Bailey had to compete in an attempt to go to the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Games. In that, Bailey has held up his end of the bargain, and then some. After the Olympics, he and his family will move to Montana, where he hopes to help grow the sport.
Biathlon is the only sport at the winter Olympic Games in which the United States has never won a medal. Bailey’s world championship accomplishments this week – a fourth place finish in the sprint, sixth in the pursuit and now 20km individual gold – could mean good things for U.S. Biathlon next year in South Korea. Look for Bailey to be back on skis in the final event at the IBU World Championship on Sunday, February 19 in the men’s 15km Mass Start.