February 16, 2017 (Hochfilzen, Austria) – The USA’s Lowell Bailey made history today at the IBU World Championships, winning the first ever championship gold medal by an American biathlete. Bailey, 35, a three-time Olympian hit all 20 targets in the men’s 20km individual and skied a remarkable final kilometer to edge out Ondrej Moravec of Czech Republic by 3.3 seconds. The bronze went to France’s Martin Fourcade.
Prior to today’s stellar win, biathlon was the only Winter Olympic sport where the U.S. had yet to win an Olympic or world title, going back to 1958 for the world championships and 1960 for the Olympic program.
Bailey was on a mission as four days earlier in the pursuit competition, he left the range in second place after cleaning his final standing session, but saw the medals slip away on the big climbs on the Hochfilzen race course, where he ultimately finishing sixth to become the first athlete – of any sport – to qualify for the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team. In the Sprint on the day prior he was fourth.
“After the Pursuit and watching the medal go away from me, I replayed this last loop in my head probably 1,000 times the last three days,” said Bailey. “I just told myself if I ever have that chance again, I can’t let that medal go away. So I kept saying that in the last loop today.” Bailey put himself in the position to succeed today – he was one of only three athletes to shoot clean, the other two being Moravec and his Czech teammate Krcmar.
Today felt almost like a repeat of the Pursuit, as Bailey left the range with a 6.4-second lead over Moravec, but lost that lead and was even with his Czech with a kilometer to go. But the American dug deep and found another gear blasting through the final kilometer to win by 3.3 seconds. Bailey was wearing bib #100 out of 101 starters, and knew exactly what he needed to do to take the gold.
The struggle showed clearly on Bailey’s face during that last lap as he skied through warm and sloppy snow, “The last loop felt like it was 40 kilometers long, not four kilometers,” he quipped. “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.'”
World Cup leader and multi-decorated, Fourcade, had the fastest skiing time, but missed one shot in each of his prone stages, adding two minutes to his overall time. The French legend was one of many to congratulate Bailey at the finish, telling him that he deserved the win more than anyone.
Leif Nordgren of the USA also turned in a strong performance, finishing 23rd at 2:53.6 back. Nordgren put together a great race, but unfortunately missed his very last shot – one of only two misses – to push him down the results sheet.
Tim Burke of the USA was the next North American finisher in 36th at 4:14.4 back. Burke skied well but missed four shots. “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. Lowell and I have been through so much together so I know exactly how much he deserves this medal.” Both Burke and Bailey heaped praise on their team and support staff.
Macx Davies and Scott Gow, both from Canada, came in 42nd and 43rd respectively. Davies (+4:25.2) missed only one shot in the final standing stage, and Gow (+4:29.1) missed two shots, both in standing.
Sean Doherty (USA) finished in 58th at 6:04.4 back. Doherty missed four shots, three in prone and one in standing. Brendan Green (CAN) came in 86th, 9:33.9 back. Canuck Christian Gow did not finish, dropping out of the race after three shooting stages.
“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,” added Bailey