OSLO, Norway — US Biathlon’s Lowell Bailey bounced back from disappointing shooting earlier at World Championships to finish 15th in the 20-kilometer individual, while Scott Gow turned in the best performance of his career to finish 18th and lead Biathlon Canada on Thursday.
“I was really frustrated with my shooting in the pursuit,” Bailey said of the performance where he missed five standing shots and ended up 36th. “I know I’ve trained so long just to get here, and I was really disappointed with that performance on the range. So I really worked in the last few days to try to get my focus back and to really execute my game plan in the range today especially.”
This time around, Bailey missed only one shot, in his first standing stage, for 95 percent shooting overall. That left him 2:43.7 behind race winner Martin Fourcade of France, and the 15th-place finish also secured Bailey a place in Sunday’s mass start.
His ski time was 36th, something he hopes to improve on as the week goes on.
“I was really happy with how everything had gone,” Bailey said of his fitness this season. “I had planned on starting out at a certain level and then working into the season. Everything had gone the way I had planned really, and we had races from the whole team in Canmore and Presque Isle, and the ski speed was also coming along there. I feel like I’m still competitive, but I think I can improve.”
All four Americans finished in the top 50, with Leif Nordgren placing 27th (+3:40.6), Sean Doherty 34th (+4:13.6), and Tim Burke 44th (+5:14.2).
Burke was undone by four penalties, three of which came in the final stage. This was especially costly in the individual format, where a missed shot equals one minute of added time. Coming into the last stage he was ranked in the top 15.
“Tough last stage,” he said after the race. “But that happens. I’ve had a lot of really good races for a long time. It happens. It’s biathlon. It’s the fun part and the frustrating part about it.”
His two younger teammates each hit 18-for-20, shooting they were pleased with, but didn’t see as perfect.
“It’s an easy day for shooting — it’s really calm,” Nordgren explained. “To miss today was pretty costly; there’s really no reason to miss. Both misses in standing were big misses that shouldn’t have happened. But, eh, that’s how it is.”
Doherty was still looking for an explanation of his two penalties.
“They were both my first shot in each prone,” he said. “So I’ll talk to the coaches about that and see what conclusions we can draw. But other than that the shooting was good. Ninety percent, that’s acceptable … I paced it well and I had good work on the range. So I’d say for the most part it was a successful race. I think it shows about the level that I’m at and I’m happy with that.”
Nordgren’s result was also good enough to qualify for the mass start, meaning that the U.S. will have two women (Susan Dunklee and Hannah Dreissigacker) and three men (Burke, Bailey, and Nordgren) competing on Sunday — an unprecedented number.
In many of those cases, it was good shooting which got them there.
“Prone I felt really in control all day,” Nordgren said, before speaking of his perfect shooting day from Saturday’s sprint. “With the shooting in the sprint, I knew that, yeah, it’s possible to shoot really well on a day like today. I knew that my shooting form was good, I just had to stay focused. The pursuit was kind of a disaster. So I just put that behind me and refocused on today.”
He had some help on the trails from the Italian team, as well as his own technicians.
“I started right in front of Lukas Hofer from Italy,” Nordgren explained. “He caught me leaving the first shooting, made up 30 seconds on my on that first loop, but I stayed with him after that. I had insanely fast skis today. So he usually had a little gap on me on the tops of the hills, and I’d come right back to him on the downhills, which was awesome. I’m really thankful for my techs today, they did a really good job on skis.”
Next up? Saturday’s relay.
With Bailey, Burke and Nordgren all scoring top 20’s so far at the Championships and Doherty consistently in the 30s and 40s, the team is “pumped” for the relay, Bailey said.
“In the men’s field right now, it’s so strong,” Bailey explained. “Every team has a stacked team, it seems like. But I think we’ve put together a really competitive team. We have four guys who are routinely in the points. So on a good day we can be right there. The results have shown that we have improved every year. We’re hoping to build on that, and anything can happen.”
Career Best for Gow
Canada was led by the older of two Gow brothers on the team, who turned in not just the best result of his season so far, but also of his career.
Earlier this year, Scott Gow finished 33rd, 34th, and 35th in sprints. In today’s 20 k individual, he broke into the top 20 for the first time with 18th.
“My second trimester wasn’t great,” Gow said. “I kind of struggled with shooting and then my skiing wasn’t in great shape. Canmore was a bit of, I think me coming up on the upswing. In the sprint race [here] I was happy with my race despite missing two. I think I had confidence knowing that my skiing’s kind of there and as long as I have the right focus in shooting I can come out pretty well. I would say I was confident for today.”
Gow was followed by three teammates in the 40s: Nathan Smith in 42nd (+5:08.3), Christian Gow in 46th (+5:25.1), and Brendan Green in 47th (+5:26.1).
Smith had five penalties, which held him back. Otherwise, his ski time was the 11th-fastest of the day.
“My shooting was pretty bad,” he said. “It’s frustrating – I’m five minutes back with five misses, so I know my skiing was good. It’s frustrating that I won’t be in the mass start now. So I will do my best in the relay, and then hopefully turn my shooting around for [the last World Cups in] Khanty-Mansiysk.”
Christian Gow was brought as Canada’s fifth man on the team. The 22 year old sat out the earlier races.
“At the start of the Championships I was told that this would be my first race for me,” Christian said. “My shooting is generally quite good, I’ve got a really high percentage, so we wanted to throw me in a race where the shooting can really pay off if you shoot exceptionally well. Unfortunately today wasn’t exceptional, but it was decent.”
After missing two shots in the first stage, he pulled it together for two more clean stages before missing one more shot in the last standing.
“I think that first bout was first-race-of-the-Championships jitters a little bit, and I didn’t feel totally relaxed,” he said. “It’s regrettable, but I at least brought it back after that. Sometimes you miss early on and no matter how much you think, ‘OK that’s out of the way, it’ll be better here,’ sometimes it just keeps down that slope. So it was really nice to pick it up with a couple cleans after that.”
The Canadians, too, are looking forward to Saturday’s relay. Their roster and start order had not been set yet.
“Last year we fought hard to get into the [Nations Cup] top 10 to allow us five starts all year, and this year it’s been phenomenal,” Christian said. “We jockey back and forth pretty much every day… Of course it’s unfortunate at a Championship that we don’t all get to start, but it’s also something that’s a reality for every team. I guess it’s cool that we’re getting to that point that we’re getting to that depth as well.”
His older brother agreed.
“Going into the season, we knew we had five starts but we didn’t really think we’d utilize it very much, but then trials in November showed the coaches and the team that we’re all really and we’re going to have to fight a lot more throughout the season to be that fourth or third guy or whatever,” Scott said.
“Especially coming to World Champs, if you assume that only four guys are going to race, you definitely want to be in that top four to be able get as many starts as possible,” he continued. “It’s added a bit of pressure, but at the same time I think everyone enjoys it. We all get along and we feed off each other. So I think it’s pushed the whole team to a higher standard.”
-Alex Kochon contributed reporting.
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.