After some strong results in last weekend’s races in Presque Isle, Lowell Bailey appeared to be on his way to another solid finish in Fort Kent.
Through two of four shooting stages in Saturday’s 12.5 k pursuit, the American had just one penalty, and had moved up substantially from his starting bib of 31.
As he skied into the range for the third time, he unslung his rifle, and looked down for his next clip. To his disbelief, his last two were missing, leaving Bailey with a gun, but no bullets to fire.
Distracted by breezy conditions during his zero—the period before each race that biathletes use to adjust for wind—Bailey had somehow forgotten the clips. He signaled frantically for a spare, waving his arm and yelling “clip!” But it took 30 seconds before an official arrived with new ones.
Impressively, Bailey went on to clean the stage, and finish with just one more penalty to end up 25th on the day. But there were 11 other competitors that were within 30 seconds ahead of him at the finish, and the blunder may have cost him an opportunity to race in Sunday’s mass start.
In that race, the top 25 best-ranked athletes in town will get start spots, along with five men with the best results combined from the pursuit, and Thursday’s sprint. Bailey looks to be just outside, according to U.S. Head Coach Per Nilsson.
While it took a while for range officials and the American coaches to see Bailey signaling on the far lefthand side of the range, he blamed no one but himself.
“It was my error. It was my mistake. I just focused way too much on my zero,” Bailey said afterwards. “I was worried about my prone, and the wind, and really focusing on that. I don’t know what else to say—I’m really disappointed.”
Normally, Bailey has a pre-race routine, which entails, among other things, checking to make sure he has all his equipment.
“Every race, I’ve seen him do it,” said Grant Enhart, the U.S. team’s physiotherapist.
For all his years in biathlon, Bailey said, he’d never made a mistake like this one.
“Never. Not even in my first biathlon race. I’ve skied the wrong loops before—this is a first for me,” he said. “I’m shocked.”
If there was one bright spot, it was the fact that Bailey was able to take his new clips and still go on to clean the third stage. In fact, according to Nilsson, it was his most accurate round of the day.
“It was so solid—that standing was right in the middle,” Nilsson said. “There was no question.”
The result, 25th, was still a good one for Bailey, but at the finish, there was no getting over the miscue. “That’s maybe one of the toughest…” he said, trailing off.
Other North American results on Saturday included Jay Hakkinen (USA) in 34th, with three penalties, Canadians Nathan Smith and Brendan Green in 38th and 39th, with four and three penalties, and American Leif Nordgren in 40th, with five penalties. Bailey was the only North American with a shot at making Sunday’s mass start.
Tim Burke (USA) continued to struggle with shooting, racking up eight misses over the four-stage race to finish 49th.
Still on his way back up from an illness that sidelined him in Presque Isle, Burke’s ski speed also wasn’t at its best in Fort Kent—his last major competition before the 2011 World Championships in Russia, in March.
But heading into those races, it’s Burke’s shooting that seems like more of a worrying trend—he hasn’t yet been able to take it to the level of last season, when he briefly wore the yellow bib of the World Cup overall leader. Nilsson said that the problems are mental—Burke’s shooting has been fine in training.
“It’s more in the head than in the technique, and the skills,” Nilsson said. “We’ll see if he can refocus now, to World Champs.”
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.