HOCHFILZEN, Austria — Lowell Bailey of Lake Placid, New York, made history on Thursday as he became the first U.S. athlete to win an individual gold medal in the International Biathlon Union World Championships.
Bailey, who was an early member of the development team at the Maine Winter Sports Center in Fort Kent, Maine, topped the field in the 20-kilometer individual race, finishing in 48 minutes, 7.4 seconds. He topped Ondrej Moravec of the Czech Republic by 3.3 seconds and 11-time world champ Martin Fourcade of France by 21.2 seconds.
According to a press release on the U.S. Biathlon website, Bailey entered the final stage of the competition seeking to avoid a last-lap disaster like he’d experienced four days earlier, during the pursuit race.
“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 in the release. “I told myself if I ever have that chance again, I can’t let that medal get away. I kept saying that in the last loop today.”
Before Thursday, U.S. biathletes had earned only two individual medals at world championships in the program’s history. Josh Thompson took silver in the 20k individual in 1987 and Tim Burke was second in the same event in 2013. The U.S. women won a bronze medal in the team relay in 1984, according to U.S. Biathlon.
Andy Shepard, the president and CEO of the Outdoor Sport Institute — formerly MWSC — said during a Thursday afternoon interview that he’d just stepped off a plane “In Newark and my phone exploded” with news of Bailey’s achievement.
“He’s had an outstanding career on the national team, he’s done everything that an organization like Maine Winter Sports Center or U.S. Biathlon could have asked of an athlete,” Shepard said. “He was an exemplary spokesperson for the sport, he reached out to communities to help inspire kids to live more active, empowered lifestyles. He’s done everything you could have asked of an athlete and today he finally did everything that an athlete would ask of himself, which is to win a gold medal in a world championships.”
Bailey was a top junior biathlete, then devoted himself to the sport after graduating from the University of Vermont in 2005. At 35, he’s among the oldest biathletes on the world class circuit.
“Lowell would certainly be considered an old athlete at this point, to be considered as someone who would win a world championship,” Shepard said. “What’s interesting is, he had strongly considered retiring at the end of last year, and after a lot of soul-searching just realized that he wasn’t ready yet. He decided to come back, rededicated himself. So this came very close to not happening.”
Shepard said Bailey serves as a great representative of the elite-level team that the MSWC trained in Fort Kent.
“We made sure that the only people that we accepted were people who we believed understood the opportunity that they were being presented, and valued that, and also valued the chance to give back to the community,” Shepard said. “ I’m so happy that we’ve demonstrated, and Lowell has demonstrated, that those kinds of athletes, who are willing to make sacrifices, who are willing to put other people above themselves, who see a greater role for sport in life [can succeed]. Lowell has been able to show that good guys can win.”