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Biathlete world champion makes history with help of wife and baby

by Lowell Bailey as told to Greg Johnson

I was planning to retire. My wife, Erika, and I were expecting our first child, and I didn’t want to be an absent father. As a biathlete, you travel to Europe for most of the competitions. But after my daughter, Ophelia, was born, my wife and I decided that I would continue to compete. It was an unorthodox decision, and Ophelia was 3 months old at the time. We decided that we would go on the road together on the Biathlon World Cup circuit.

The most important part of the decision was to stay together as a family and not be in different parts of the world for six months of the year.

I’ve always struggled being on the road alone in foreign countries for extended lengths of time. Last winter, it didn’t feel so difficult. We had our family unit. You could drop us anywhere, and we were going to be fine.   

What I’ve come to appreciate about the experience is last year was by far my best season, at age 35. That is an advanced age for a biathlete.

People have asked me what the difference was. At the top level, everyone has the resources they need. So, it comes down to tiny differences that give you an advantage. For me, it was having a place on the road, which is a highly stressful and intense environment, where the presence of my wife and daughter gave me a place to retreat to. I could step into World Cup mode, then into family mode. That was the case even if it was in a hotel room in Italy. We still had our family and our private life.

Competition dates
  • Men’s 20KM individual, Feb. 15.

During the world championships in the 20-kilometer race I won in Hochfilzen, Austria, it was a close race up until the very end. I went 20-for-20 in the last shooting bout, and I came out of the range in first place by a seven-second margin.

I had 4 kilometers to ski before the end of the race. At each interval, I was losing time. At the last split, I was told that I was even with the person who was in second place. I was losing time.

There was a huge climb before the finish line. Erika was on the top of the climb with Ophelia strapped to her chest. She was running beside me and kept saying, “You’re winning! You’re winning! You’re winning!” I think that is what made the difference for me.

I made up three seconds in the final part of the race with my wife encouraging me. It was obviously emotional. We would have never had that moment if we had not decided to face all the challenges and logistical things that come up in travel.

As new parents, you don’t know what you are doing all the time, and you make mistakes. But experiences like at the world championships make me so glad we decided to travel as a family last year. It is a family memory that we will always have for the rest of our lives.

Ophelia had eight stamps on her passport by the time she was 8 months old. She will never remember it, but I can show her the passport to show she was there.

In 2017, Lowell Bailey became the first American to win a biathlon world championship. Bailey, who will compete in his fourth Olympics this winter and was  a two-time runner-up in the NCAA skiing championships, graduated from Vermont in 2005 and was a three-time CoSIDA Academic All-American for the Catamounts.



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