“Today was one of the best biathlon races of my career,” Lowell Bailey told FasterSkier after Saturday’s World Cup pursuit in Hochfilzen, Austria. “…Except for the fourth shooting.”
The American biathlete started the day ranked 14th, 52 seconds behind leader Carl Johan Bergman of Sweden. Through three stages, Bailey shot clean and skied his way up into fifth place.
“This is really only the second time in my career that I have been in this position in the pursuit, so I have to be happy with that,” Bailey said.
The first time was last weekend at the World Cup openers in Ostersund, Sweden. There, Bailey placed fifth in the sprint, so he started the pursuit closer to the front. Today’s effort was in some ways even more impressive since he had a larger deficit to make up before reaching the top five.
Either way, though, Bailey’s chances for podium were dashed when he missed two shots in the final standing stage.
“I wish I could get those two misses back!” Bailey wrote.
Bailey had the 18th-fastest course time of the day, and spent time skiing around champions like Michael Greis of Germany, Bjorn Ferry of Sweden, and Emil Hegle Svendsen of Norway, who outsprinted teammate Tarjei Bø for the win. Bailey also passed Bergman, who dropped down as low as 12th place after struggling in prone before rebounding, passing Bailey, and winding up fourth, roughly ten seconds off the podium.
“I felt good on course and solid in the first three shooting stages,” Bailey told FasterSkier. “Overall, I am happy with the race and excited for the first relay tomorrow.”
While Bailey couldn’t capitalize on his good position midway through the race, the fact that he got there at all is just one more positive in a young season that has been filled with career-best results. In Ostersund, Bailey racked up finishes of ninth in the individual, fifth in the sprint, and 13th in the pursuit. In Hochfilzen, he has notched two more top-twenties.
Before this year, Bailey had only finished in the top ten once.
He was able to point to a few specific things that had influenced his performance.
“First, I was able to make a few major changes in my ski technique and I think that has helped me a lot in the way I approach a race tactically,” Bailey explained. “Secondly, I was able to stay healthier this year, especially during the fall and the World Cup prep training blocks. [For] the past few years it seems that I’ve been plagued by some kind of ailment just before the start of every season.”
But additionally, Bailey thought that his recent success had a lot to do with the fact that he’s stuck with a good program, been patient, and waited for good results. He thought that U.S. biathlon on the whole was on its way up.
“I feel very fortunate to have worked with the teammates, staff, and trainers that have been a part of my training over the last five years,” Bailey said. “I have been on a lot of different nordic sports teams over my career and I can confidently say that this is the most professional and dynamic group of people I’ve ever been a part of.
“It makes all the difference to work with a team rather than for a team.”
Two other Americans raced in the pursuit, which only takes the top 60 finishers from the sprint. Jay Hakkinen maintained his bib number, 45; he gained several spots early in the race, but encountered shooting problems in the last two stages and fell back to 45th.
Tim Burke fell from 42nd to 46th on the back of six penalties. Burke and Hakkinen had the 35th and 39th-fastest course times of the day.
* * *
While Bailey has been celebrating his spate of top-ten and top-twenty results, another North American has had a strong start to the season as well. Brendan Green of Canada placed 14th in the sprint in Ostersund before falling to 32nd in the pursuit. In Hochfilzen, he started the pursuit with bib 34.
After cleaning both prone stages, Green had moved up to 21st, and seemed to be on track for the fifth top-twenty finish of his career.
He then missed one and two shots in the standing stages and fell back to 33rd – still in the World Cup points, but frustrating given the possibilities at the start of the race.
“Although I picked up some misses late in the race during the standing bouts, I had a strong ski,” Green, who had the 19th-fastest course time, wrote in an e-mail.
He explained that while he had hoped to replicated his sprint result from last weekend, his body threw a wrench in the works partway through the week.
“After the last race in Sweden my back flared up quite badly – related to a disk herniation that happened while training in late July,” Green said. “Early on in the week I was considering flying home, but our support staff worked extra hard to get me back on my feet and things improved a lot over the last few days.
“It’s been a really a roller coaster week for me.”
The sprint was particularly difficult for Green – he did not feel comfortable on his skis – but he managed to shoot clean and keep himself in the game for the pursuit. Luckily, he said, today he felt much better.
“I was actually able to enjoy the race, as opposed to yesterday which physically was a struggle from the get go,” a relieved Green explained. “Given the circumstances I am satisfied I was able to maintain my position today, and I am hoping I can keep things rolling in the right direction.”
No other Canadians competed in the pursuit.