Lowell Bailey is the dad of a six-month-old baby girl. Tim Burke celebrated his two-year anniversary earlier this fall. Both are US Biathlon team veterans, and at 35 and 34 years old, respectively, they’re still lighting up the International Biathlon Union (IBU) World Cup.
The teammates and training partners, based out of Lake Placid, N.Y., finished one place and 2.1 seconds apart on Thursday, with Bailey ending up 15th and Burke 16th in the first men’s individual World Cup race of the season: the 20-kilometer individual in Östersund, Sweden.
While Bailey accumulated four penalties in the four-stage race, he posted the 11th-fastest overall range and shooting times out of 103 finishers, and his course time ranked 25th overall.
“Your ski speed is always a little bit of an unknown going into the first race of the season,” Bailey said, according to a US Biathlon press release. “I’m happy to start off with decent ski speed and I hope I can build on this race going forward from here. I’ve worked throughout the training session on increasing the speed in the shooting setup (before any shots are fired) so I’m happy to see the overall range time where it is.”
It was another windy day in Östersund, without a single racer hitting all 20 targets. The 10th starter and reigning overall World Cup champion, Martin Fourcade of France, took the individual win in 51:33.8 with two misses (0+2+0+0). He held off Norway’s Johannes Thingnes Bø (the 15th starter) by 29.5 seconds. Bø cleaned three-straight stages, but two penalties on the last standing cost him the win (0+0+0+2) and he settled for second.
“I knew I had the chance with 15 hits after the first three stages, but there was so much wind,” Bø told German TV broadcaster ARD. “I just tried to fight hard. but not hard enough. Two misses and I lost the first place. That was not so good, but the three first [stages] and overall it was a good race.“
Meanwhile, Vladimir Chepelin of Belarus was one of three finishers with just one miss (1+0+0+0), and he finished third (1:24.3 behind Fourcade) for his first World Cup podium, despite clocking the 43rd-ranked course time.
Germany’s Florian Graf, who started 94th, was on track for a podium with three clean stages, but one miss on the last standing put him in eighth at the finish (+2:33.6).
“In our hotel room, we joked about skiing in the top ten and shooting clean,” Graf told ARD. “Of course I would not have expected that it works out so well today, but I am overjoyed to have such a debut.”
Norway had three finish in the top five with Lars Helge Birkeland in fourth (+2:10.5, three misses) and Ole Einar Bjørndalen in fifth (+2:16.7, three misses).
But the main story of the day was once again Fourcade, who, like Bailey, is also a dad.
Asked what was more important, his life with his 14-month-old daughter or winning the first individual race of the season, Fourcade replied, “If I say the victory my wife would probably kill me. Or my daughter would kill me in a few years, too. So yeah, you can’t compare. Biathlon is my passion, is my job, but my daughter is my life now. Nothing to compare,” he told ARD.
In terms of the race itself, he said he was pleased.
“It was a long preparation and this was a good answer about my shape after the test in Sjusjøen and the win in single mixed [relay],” Fourcade said after his second win in as many races this season, and 48th individual World Cup victory (50 including two Olympic golds in 2014). “There is a difference with being able to win and actually winning, so I am very happy.”
And then there was the question of whether his main goal is a sixth overall World Cup title.
“That is what I trained for, that is what I hope I will get,” Fourcade said. “But this is biathlon. Today I had a good form with challenging wind conditions, but you can also lose quickly. It’s just one race, and there are about 30 more coming. I am very happy about today. I will enjoy this victory, my 50th World Cup victory. That is something I wouldn’t have dreamed about and I will enjoy it today.”
In bib 18, Bailey started directly behind Chepelin, the third-place finisher, and cleaned both prone stages, but missed two on each standing bout.
“It was pretty gusty in the range and you really had to concentrate on making quality shots,” Bailey told US Biathlon. “I’m happy with the prone performance but definitely wish I could have a few of those standing shots back.”
Burke in bib 27 started off with a clean prone as well, followed by two standing misses then another clean prone. In the final stage, he had one more penalty for a total of three (0+2+0+1) and finished 2.1 seconds back from Bailey, 3:54.6 behind Fourcade, and 0.2 seconds ahead of 19th-place Ondrej Moravec of the Czech Republic.
Burke has tallied three podiums in Östersund, most recently in 2013/2014, when he placed third in a sprint. In 2009/2010, he finished second in an 20 k there and third in the sprint.
“I’m not really sure why Östersund has been a good venue for me,” he told US Biathlon. “Maybe it’s because of the tricky shooting conditions, which is something that I typically like. Unfortunately, I felt really flat on the course today. I should have been able to reach the top 10 today with that shooting, but I just did not have it on the tracks today. Hopefully my legs will rebound for Saturday’s sprint.”
On Thursday, he made a point to shoot slower than usual in the windy conditions. His range time ranked 31st overall.
“I decided to just take my time on the range and that worked out today,” Burke said.
Also for the U.S., Russell Currier, who qualified for World Cup starts less than a week ago in an IBU Cup sprint, finished 54th (+7:04.5) with six penalties (1+1+2+2).
Nathan Smith led the Canadians in 43rd (+5:36.8) with three penalties (1+0+1+1). Among his teammates, Scott Gow finished 60th (+7:30.4, five misses), Macx Davies was 62nd (+7:34.6, four misses), Brendan Green was 89th (+10:20.1, eight misses), and Christian Gow 99th (+12:52.8, eight misses).
— Harald Zimmer contributed reporting
- 20 k individual
- Brendan Green
- Christian Gow
- Florian Graf
- Johannes Thingnes Bø
- Lars Helge Birkeland
- Lowell Bailey
- Macx Davies
- Martin Fourcade
- Nathan Smith
- Ole Einar Bjorndalen
- Östersund 20 k individual
- Ostersund IBU World Cup
- Ostersund World Cup
- Russell Currier
- Scott Gow
- Tim Burke
- US Biathlon
- Vladimir Chepelin
Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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.