RUHPOLDING – Lowell Bailey doesn’t usually pull any punches when he has what he views as a bad result. If the American biathlete is not happy, he shows it.
But placing 25th with two penalties today seemed to bring him quite a bit of joy. Was it a result he’d usually be psyched about? No way – he finished 2:23 behind race winner Emil Hegle Svendsen of Norway. But Bailey has been sick since the start of 2014, and just to put a bib on was a big step.
“I honestly wasn’t expecting too much today, because this is the first speed workout that I’ve done in almost two weeks,” he said at the finish line. “I haven’t been doing anything. I probably trained four hours in the last two weeks. I was in bed for a week and then just training really easy up until now.”
Despite all that, Bailey managed the 27th-fastest course time – a pretty good comeback. The last time he raced was in a pursuit in Annency, France, almost a month ago, where he finished 15th after using the 12th-fastest ski time to climb 20 places.
Today wasn’t that. But it was fine.
“All in all, I’m content with [today’s race], for sure,” he said.
While most of the field is gearing up for Sochi, Bailey was left sitting in bed and watching last weekend’s racing in Oberhof from afar. Maybe he didn’t miss much, as the field all agreed that it wasn’t much fun – but when you’re not racing, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. (In this case, quite literally – Oberhof was more grassy than snowy.)
“The hardest part of being a biathlete is sitting around and waiting to get better,” Bailey said.
U.S. head coach Per Nilsson was impressed with Bailey’s form in his return, but said that he had never been to worried about how the illness would affect his athlete. He doesn’t consider any harm to be done to the Olympic preparations.
“I said in the team meeting last night: eight years of great training are not going to be messed up by a week of having no training,” Nilsson said as he watched the last few athletes cycle through the shooting range. “He will be totally fine.”
In fact, he thought the enforced rest might have a silver lining. Last year Bailey broke his toe in mid-December, which stifled his skiing ability. But he had some of his best finishes late in the season, finishing in the top 15 in all three competitions at the last weekend of World Cup racing in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia.
“Lowell is an energetic guy, so maybe it’s good for him,” Nilsson said as he watched the final athletes cycle through the range. “It’s just like last year, when he had that foot injury. Now he has to take some time and rest the muscles, and he’ll be better when he comes back.”
Today, Bailey said that he felt strong through three laps, “and then really it was a struggle.” He had a little help from his friends: he skied with Dominik Landertinger of Austria for those first three laps, and then with Simon Fourcade of France.
“Those guys are fast, so I was glad to ski with them a bit,” he said.
Today’s individual race was unusual in that it will be used to determine start order for a pursuit tomorrow. Pursuits are usually based off of sprint races; the last time this happened with an individual being used as the basis was back in 2003. Time deficits will be halved, since sprints are only half the distance of individual competitions.
Bailey wasn’t sure if he’d feel better tomorrow or not.
“It’s 12.5 k, there’s a little less climbing, so we’ll see,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it. But the happiest thing is that I’m, knock on wood, healthy again. It took a lot longer than I thought.”
His teammate struggled on the range, with Tim Burke missing five shots and Leif Nordgren four. When we talked to coach Nilsson on the range, before the race was finished, he predicted that neither would qualify for the pursuit.
But when all was said and done, they did: Nordgren will be the 53rd starter and Burke the 56th, here tomorrow morning.
“It’s unfortunate, because I’ve mostly shot really well in four-stage races,” Burke said. “It was definitely frustrating.”
Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.