JERICHO, Vt. – Lowell Bailey could go around telling people he won two national rollerski titles this weekend. But that’s not exactly the biggest deal for Bailey, a U.S. biathlon champion multiple times over who’s been competing at the sport’s highest level for more than a decade.
Just over an hour after his second victory in as many races at the Ethan Allen Firing Range this weekend, the US Biathlon A-team member was changed and ready to head back home to Lake Placid, N.Y.
“I’m gonna play a little music tonight,” Bailey said.
Truth be told, one of the two bands Bailey plays in, “Swimming with Champy,” has a gig at a private party. An accomplished stringed musician, he plays the mandolin for the bluegrass band. His other band, Big Slyde, is more “Indie/folk,” he said.
But before he could even think about performing, Bailey had to get through two rollerski championships first. Qualifying for the International Biathlon Union (IBU) World Cups was one pressure the 32-year-old didn’t have to think about at the North American Biathlon Rollerski Championships, which doubled as U.S. trials; he prequalified for the U.S. World Cup and the 2014 Olympic teams.
But Bailey wanted to do well while testing his fitness and shooting savvy at this point in the training season. After winning Saturday’s 10-kilometer opening sprint by 1 minute and 9 seconds, he started Sunday’s pursuit with a 1:10 lead on runner-up Russell Currier (Maine Winter Sports Center/USBA A-team). Bailey finished 3:10 ahead of Brendan Green (Biathlon Canada), who rose from third to second in the pursuit. Tim Burke (USBA A-team) was third, up from starting fourth, and Currier dropped to ninth with 11 penalties.
“Even though you’re that far out front, there’s still a little bit of pressure,” Bailey said.
He finished with three penalties, one in each of the last three stages, which he said would be average or a little sub-par on the World Cup. Fortunately for him, the Ethan Allen Firing Range tends to be a tough place to shoot for most biathletes. Saturday’s swirling winds didn’t help, but Bailey skied fast and stayed ahead with one penalty (1-0). He experimented with a more aggressive approach than usual on the gradual climb to the range, and it worked in the sprint.
“[I’m] trying to keep my range times down, be really efficient in the range, efficient but still be accurate,” he said. “I’m satisfied. … Overall I’m happy with the races.”
Green, who’s coming off two back surgeries and 11 months away from skiing to heal a herniated disc, said he was feeling good about his progress. Like Bailey, he had just one miss in the sprint prone and went on to hit 17 of 20 targets on Sunday. He cleaned two stages (1-0-2-0).
“I’m super happy to be back training and getting back into race shape,” Green, 26, said Saturday. “It was a long and slow recovery, but it’s nice to have some confirmation that things are going on the right track.”
Out of commission for most of 2012, he got back on skis Christmas day.
“From then it was a gradual progression,” Green said. He hadn’t spent much time shooting, but those skills came back to him. Most importantly, he had a renewed focus.
“When I got injured, there was a huge question mark of whether or not I would be able to come back and recover,” he said. “Having to take a backseat for a while made me realize that this is what I really, really love to do and what I’m passionate about. I guess that kind of motivated me to really focus and be diligent with the rehab and take another crack at it.”
Green’s girlfriend, Rosanna Crawford, matched his double podium at Biathlon Rollerski Championships, placing second in the women’s 7.5 k sprint and winning the 10 k pursuit.
“It’s always great when a teammate has a good race before [your race] and even better when it’s Brendan,” she wrote in an email. “I really look up to Brendan when it comes to training. He’s an amazing athlete and really dedicated to the sport.”
Skiing with Burke for much of the five-lap pursuit, Green finally dropped him after cleaning the second standing. Burke missed two (1-2-3-2) and fell behind after the penalty loops.
“It’s great that the Canadians came down to race; they have a really solid guys’ team,” Burke said.
Pleased with how his training’s been going on and off the range, Burke was disappointed with his shooting this weekend after missing seven targets on Sunday and five in the sprint.
“I was for sure hoping to shoot better and no excuses for today; it was easy shooting conditions,” he said. “A little rusty in the summer. I don’t know what it is but I usually have pretty low shooting percentages [in Jericho]. My shooting training’s been great, better than it ever has in years past … so I’m not too worried about it.”
Leif Nordgren (USBA A-team) rose from eighth in the sprint to fourth in the pursuit, a good note to end on, but not entirely what he’d hoped for. He missed 4 of 10 targets on Saturday, then 6 of 20 (0-3-1-2) on Sunday.
“[I’ve] had better races, but I was happy with how the skiing has gone the last couple days,” Nordgren, 24, said. “Usually in August I’m pretty rough as far as ski shape is concerned.”
He held off teammate Jay Hakkinen (USBA B-team) by two seconds for fourth place, 4:27 behind Bailey. Already qualified for the first three IBU World Cups, Nordgren said less pressure helped.
“I’ve just been training straight through these and don’t have to worry about good results, so that’s nice,” he said.
Less of an emphasis on results is a good thing for the 24-year-old, who mulled his future in the sport earlier this year.
“I was a little burned out after the season, just mentally,” he said. “I was actually thinking about how long I wanted to do biathlon.”
As a remedy, he visited his brother in California, where he did some “fun, easy” training.
“When I got back to Lake Placid in June I was actually pretty motivated so it’s been a good year since then,” Nordgren said. “I’m probably in the best physical shape that I’ve been in ever, for sure, in the summer. I’ve trained more this year than past summers. I feel like I’m more relaxed about training than I used to be, too.”
It helps having teammates like Bailey and Burke to train with year-round.
“It’s really motivating to be able to measure your everyday training against two of the best biathletes in the world,” he said. “I’m not at their level, but I can see how close I am to them from the past and where I am now.”
Alex Kochon (email@example.com) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.