For some athletes, being able to compete at the Olympics is a big enough thrill. Others just want to be able to say they gave it their all, regardless of how they finish.
But as Lake Placid's Lowell Bailey readies for his third Winter Olympics, the 32-year-old veteran of the World Cup biathlon circuit is gunning for a medal.
"My goal is an Olympic podium, plain and simple," Bailey said.
The way he's been skiing and shooting lately, this could be Bailey's best chance to achieve that elusive goal in a sport dominated by Europeans. This season, Bailey has recorded multiple top-25 finishes, highlighted by a 12th place in a 12.5-kilometer pursuit in Antholz, Italy in January.
"I'm happy with the way the season has gone so far," Bailey said. "Beginning in April, my coaches and I mapped out a training plan aiming to peak later in the season. So far, the plan seems to be working."
While he's never made the podium in World Cup competition, he has been close. In the last four years, he has posted eight top-10 finishes, including a pair of fifth-place results in the winter of 2011-12 when he ended the season ranked 14th in the world.
Bailey said he's at a different point in his career now than he was during the last Olympics, when his best results were a pair of 36th-place finishes.
"In 2010, I had a handful of top-30 finishes and my highest overall ranking was somewhere in the 60s," he said. "This time around, I've had two previous years ranked in the top 30 overall and a bunch of top-10 finishes. I've worked hard over the last four years to make improvements where I could, and I feel prepared and ready for Sochi."
Could this be the year the U.S. gets its first Olympic medal in biathlon? While Bailey's goal is to make the podium, he qualified that by saying his Winter Olympic sport is the hardest to medal in.
"We have more competitors than most of the other disciplines, and the combination of skiing and shooting makes for incredibly volatile results," he said. "You can be 80th place one day and on the podium the next. No other sport presents those types of swings."
Bailey was born in North Carolina, moved to Old Forge as a preschooler and has lived in Lake Placid ever since he was 10 years old. He and Tim Burke of Paul Smiths are seen as the best hope for ending the U.S. biathlon Olympic medal draught. The two have raced against each other and followed the same path up the biathlon circuit since they were 6 years old.
"He's one of my best friends and one of my fiercest competitors," Bailey said of Burke. "We do train together a lot, and I think this enables both of us to become better athletes. We are both out there pushing each other, competing and trying to win on a daily basis."
This will only be the second time Bailey and his teammates have competed at the Laura Cross-Country Ski and Biathlon Center in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. Bailey described it as a challenging venue with many steep, sustained climbs and fast, twisting downhills.
"That being said, we have structured our training over the last year to target these types of terrain," Bailey said. "Our home training venue at the biathlon facility located on the Lake Placid Jumping Complex grounds contains similar terrain to Sochi, and we've spent a lot of time on the climbs there this spring, summer and fall."
When Bailey isn't training or competing, he is likely pursuing his other passion, music. During the offseason he plays guitar in a pair of local bluegrass bands, Big Slyde and Swimming with Champy. When he's on the road, he carries a travel guitar and practices in his hotel room or plays with friends, including a few other musical biathletes from other countries.
"Every athlete needs something that they can use to get away from the focus and intensity required of biathlon," Bailey said. "Music helps me relax and return to the next training refreshed and ready to focus."
As he prepares for the Olympics, Bailey said he's been getting a lot of great support from people in the Tri-Lakes region.
"I feel very fortunate to call Lake Placid my home," he said. "There is no other place in the country that takes such pride in their Olympic heritage and carrying on that history in their support of local Olympians."