FORT KENT — The biathlon gods were not on Lowell Bailey’s side Saturday during the Biathlon World Cup, as problems with his rifle hurt him big-time in the pursuit.
But sometimes a little bit of luck and skill can go a long way, and Bailey proved that Sunday, getting a chance to start in the 15-kilometer mass start due to scratches.
Bailey made the most of his opportunity, recording a career-best eighth-place finish in 40 minutes, 27.2 seconds at the 10th Mountain Center.
It was a happy homecoming for a guy who once trained at the Maine Winter Sports Center.
“I just told myself ‘Do what you can with what you have and what you’re given’,” Bailey said. “I can’t think of a better feeling. I’m on cloud nine right now. It’s been a long road.”
Martin Fourcade of France went on to claim the gold in 39:48.9, with Tomasz Sikora of Poland taking second in 39:52.0 and Tarjei Boe of Norway third in 39:43.6.
Earning gold in the women’s 12.5K race was Germany’s Magdalena Neuner, who finished in 39:30.6.
Rounding out the women’s medalists were Andrea Henkel of Germany in 39:54.2 and Darya Domracheva of Belerus in 39:59.3.
Sara Studebaker of Boise, Idaho, was the lone U.S. competitor, and she covered the race in 43:09.2 to finish 23rd among the 30 racers.
The men’s competitiors skied five 3K laps and the women five 2.5K laps to wrap up two weeks of World Cup action in Aroostook County.
In the men’s competition, Bailey was in the middle of the pack in 18th heading into the last shooting stage, and he earned a considerable top-10 chance by nailing all five of his targets.
“Anything can happen in that last standing,” Bailey said. “As long as you keep yourself in the race til the last standing, if you can clear that stage crazy things can happen.”
Bailey used every ounce of energy on his final lap, and with a mass of Aroostook County spectators rooting him on, the Lake Placid, N.Y., resident managed to hold on.
“Everyone here in the crowd deserves a little bit of the credit for that top 10 because that last loop, painful would be putting it lightly,” Bailey said. “I was holding on for dear life, really. The hometown crowd helped me. It took everything I had. I want to thank everyone for cheering today.”
Bailey’s good fortune on the range was quite a contrast to Saturday when he discovered he had no ammo on the third stage as he forgot to reload his rifle prior to starting.
“I made a big mental error. I was pretty upset about that because I thought I’d be out of the mass start,” Bailey said. “Today, I have to say I was very lucky to make it to the starting line. I didn’t know until an hour before the start because I was third reserve and due to some sickness on other teams and a few other circumstances, I made it into the last spot.”
MWSC president Andy Shepard was a happy man too.
“To have gotten a top-10 finish in the United States is huge,” he said, “and for Lowell in general. Lowell is one of those guys who has worked hard his whole career and has had some good results, but this is by far the best result he’s ever had. And to have this in Fort Kent, which is his home course, I’m sure is very special.”
In the women’s competition, Neuner cruised to her first victory of the weekend while missing only one target on her last stand.
Neuner had been third in the sprint on Friday and second in Saturday’s pursuit, and was confident it would be her turn to claim the gold Sunday.
“(Saturday) I said I’m ready for the win, and now it’s happened and it’s a great feeling,” Neuner said. “It was a really good race for me. It was perfect.”
The top three women were nearly flawless on the range, with Neuner, Henkel and Domracheva combining to miss only three shots.
“I think it was a really tactical race. The first and second round I went a little bit slower to shoot very well,” said Neuner.
Henkel will leave the St. John Valley with the world’s top ranking and she’s satisified with two first-place efforts and a second.
“I’m very excited that this weekend was good for me,” she said.
Henkel was able to hold off Domracheva for second with a surge of energy on the final loop.
“It was a good fight with Andrea the last loop,” Domracheva said.
Neuner feels that she is in tip-top shape for the upcoming World Championships in Siberia.
“(Monday) we go home for four days and then we have a training camp,” she said. “It’s really good to relax. I’m very prepared for the world championships.”