Lowell Bailey competes in the men's 10-kilometer sprint biathlon at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 on Feb. 11, 2018 in PyeongChang, South Korea.
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – Soon after four-time Olympian Lowell Bailey finished his biathlon race Sunday night, his 18-month daughter Ophelia was waking up on the other side of the world and ready for mother Erika to make her breakfast.
For most of the last two seasons the Bailey family traveled the world cup circuit together, but the logistics and expense made it too daunting for Erika and Ophelia to come to the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.
In addition, Erika is expecting the Baileys’ second child in early July.
So Erika and Ophelia left Europe to go home to Lake Placid, New York, and Lowell came to South Korea by himself.
“It’s different to be here without them,” Bailey said, “but I know that they every day support me and I them, and thankfully there’s great wifi in the Olympic Village and we can video chat. I can wake them up in the middle of the night and talk to them. It’ll be fine for the next three weeks, but I’ll be glad to reunite at the end.”
On Sunday, Bailey finished 33rd in the men’s 10-kilometer sprint, the highest finish for Team USA, with fellow four-time Olympian Tim Burke 47th, Leif Nordgren 58th and Sean Doherty 65th.
“It’s hard sitting on the couch,” Erika said by phone after the race. “My heart’s just pounding in my chest. It’s almost harder, almost more nerve-racking watching from home than being at the races.
“I wish I was there in person.”
Bailey will also compete in the pursuit, individual race, mass start and relays.
The sprint was a disappointing outing for Bailey, who last year became the first American to win a world championships gold medal in biathlon in the 20-kilometer individual race. His best Olympic finish is eighth in individual in 2014.
His time was 24 minutes, 54.4 seconds, 1:15.6 behind winner Arnd Peiffer of Germany.
Biathlon remains the only winter sport in which Team USA has never won an Olympic medal.
Bailey missed one of his 10 shots. Otherwise, he would have finished in the low 20s. Still, this was his highest finish in the sprint in his four Olympic Games.
“I had a good performance on the range,” Bailey said, “but unfortunately I just didn’t have it in the legs. I hoped for better.”
This time, he didn’t have his wife and daughter close by to console him.
“I feel like fatherhood has broadened my perspective on life really,” Bailey said. “It kind of allows me to think of biathlon differently. It’s still something that I focus on every day and I try to be the best that I can be on the race course, but I know that when you have a one and a half year old at home that can’t really speak yet, you know that they’re not going to chastise you for missing a target or not skiing fast enough.”
The Baileys had a video chat the day before - nighttime for Lowell and 14 hours earlier on the East Coast.
Lowell said Erika told him, “good luck and she hopes that I do well, but I think I’m really lucky because I have them at home.”
Lowell said they looked into being together in PyeongChang, but that would have meant staying outside the Olympic Village at their own expense. He’ll go home after the Games, and then they’ll travel together again for the remaining world cups.
Bailey had planned to retire and run a bison farm before Ophelia was born, but was offered the opportunity to start a world-class biathlon facility in Bozeman, Montana. The only strings attached were that he compete two more years.
“It’s been an incredible opportunity to be able to have my daughter there and participate in her upbringing,” he said, “because this sport takes you away from home, especially if you’re a U.S. biathlete. We compete pretty much exclusively in central Europe so we’re on the road almost half the year if not more. Any parent knows it’s really difficult to be away from your kid when they’re in those initial stages, because almost every day they do something new and something different.”
Max Cobb, president and CEO of the U.S. Biathlon Association, said that for Bailey to travel the world with his family “was so helpful and wonderful for him.“You’ve got a family behind you that loves you and is there to support you, and I think that really helped him maintain balance and also focus in a way that he hadn’t been able to before this.”
Cobb added that they’ve only been apart a week and, “Honestly the logistics of having family that are uncredentialed at the Olympics is cumbersome and I think they made the right decision.”
Bailey was the first American to qualify for Team USA in February 2017. He has been hampered by a series of colds this year.
“I just haven’t had the ski shape that I had last year,” he said. “I haven’t gotten the speed going this year and that’s the way biathlon is. You can have a great year of training and not really know where your ski speed went. But on the other hand, things can change quickly. It’s not too far away and with any luck I’ll feel better and better as the Games go on.”
The weather conditions were challenging with the temperature 20 degrees, so cold that he said it “was a bit tough to feel the trigger,” which contributed to his missed shot.
On the course, he said, “Sometimes you had gale-force winds in your face. Other times you had a gale force tailwind – rather have the latter than the former.”
He still has several races left in his last Olympic Games. For the first time, he marched in the Opening Ceremony, so he is filling in some of the blanks. What remains is that elusive Olympic medal.
“This is my fourth Olympics,” Bailey said. “I’m 36. I’ve put my heart and soul into this sport for a long time and I’ve really put everything I have into this Olympics, so I hope for the best. This was not a bad day. It’s a solid finish. I hoped for better, but we’ll start from here and work forward.”