An exhilarating winter sports season has started to wrap up, making it the perfect time to look back at the amazing feats that Team USA accomplished. One of those remarkable achievements was that of Lowell Bailey and the rest of the US Biathlon team.
Bailey (Lake Placid, NY) took home the first ever gold medal from a United States athlete in a world championship or Olympic competition. Bailey came back from nearly retiring to shock the field and take home the title, upsetting one of the most dominant skiers of this generation in France’s Martin Fourcade.
Three days later, Susan Dunklee took home the first ever individual medal in a biathlon world event when she earned a silver medal in the 12.5 kilometer mass start. The Vermont native finished less than five seconds behind Germany’s Laura Dahlmeier who had won five of the six races at the world championships.
So what does this historic performance mean for the Olympic squad? With it being the final winter sport that no American as ever medaled in before, a podium finish is long overdue. Is this sort of success something the United States can rally behind and finally push to end the drought?
Obviously having the reigning world champion and a reigning world silver medalist on the Olympic squad immediately vaults Bailey and Dunklee into the medal conversation, and they will definitely be there in 2018, as their performances locked in their bids in Pyeongchang. But it’s important to take their performances with a grain of salt.
Bailey is 35-years old, and while biathletes and cross-country skiers can ordinarily have successful careers lasting into their early 40s, it’s still not the right side of 30. Not to mention, only one year ago he was mulling retirement and becoming a cattle farmer full time. While career comebacks aren’t non-existent, the fact that he was nearly reading to jettison his career before making a commitment doesn’t really induce confidence.
The biggest thing in Bailey’s favor is his ability to get hot from the range. For example in his gold medal performance, he nailed down all twenty of his shots without a miss, helping offset his lackluster skiing. This started a streak of almost three whole races where Bailey didn’t miss a single shot, keeping him near the top of podium contention even after worlds. Obviously in order to win a world championship Bailey has to have some sort of substantial skiing ability, but his shooting helps bail him out where he can’t compete with the world’s best.
Dunklee, 31, is a little bit different, where she is a solid all-around biathlete instead of having just one facet that is extra strong. She has also been knocking near the cusp of the world’s upper crust for years now, but has never truly shown the consistent ability to reach the podium on the world stage. However she dotted the season with podium finishes, and then finally broke through with a silver at worlds.
So with these two headliners becoming the first U.S. Olympians locked in for the 2018 Olympics, there are finally legitimate medal hopes moving forward. Bailey finished the season eighth in the World Cup standings, while Dunklee finished tenth, meaning that they are easily in striking distance of the world’s top. However, they won’t be anywhere near medal favorites.
A not so bold prediction states that they will not end the medal drought in 2018. The leading powers of Fourcade and Dahlmeier along with traditional leaders are likely going to be way too much for the upstarts from the United States.
However, for the first time arguably in Olympic history, save Tim Burke, the biathlon events will something for American fans to watch. There is an off-chance at a medal for Dunklee and Bailey, meaning that there is a chance that they could surprise everyone and medal. This small amount of excitement is something that fans should crave and hold onto as the Olympic year opens up and the landscape gets clearer. And maybe, just maybe, the American drought will be over in the biathlon.