KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia - Lowell Bailey is leaving the Sochi Winter Olympic Games a happy man.
The 32-year-old from Lake Placid, who competed in every men's biathlon event at the games, had his share of ups and downs over the last two weeks. Following his last race on Saturday, Bailey said he was pleased overall with his third Olympics.
"Some races I underperformed; some races I did what I set out to do," he said. "I'm happy overall with the Olympics. Of course, you always hope for medals, but to come within one shot of a medal, that's something to be proud of."
Lowell Bailey of Lake Placid watches the scoreboard after skiing his leg in the men's 4-by-7.5-kilometer relay Saturday at the Laura Cross-Country Ski and Biathlon Center.
(Photo - Chris Knight)
Bailey opened the Olympics with disappointing finishes in the sprint and pursuit: 35th and 38th, respectively. But he turned it around during the Feb. 13 individual 20-kilometer event when he finished in eighth place, the best-ever Olympic result for the U.S. in biathlon. Bailey missed only one shot out of 20 in the race. That one miss added a minute to his time, and he finished 1:25.7 behind gold medalist Martin Fourcade of France.
In his next race, the 15-kilometer mass start, Bailey battled heavy, wet snow and fog and placed 23rd. He bounced back with strong performances in the team's two relays: Wednesday's mixed relay and Saturday's 4-by-7.5-kilometer men's relay.
The U.S. placed 16th of 19 teams in Saturday's relay. Bailey skied the first leg and shot clean during both his visits to the range.
"I felt like that was pretty much exactly what I wanted to do today," Bailey said. "I wanted to push the pace in the first loop, so I was pretty aggressive there, and things went well on the range."
When he tagged off to Russell Currier of Stockholm, Maine, the U.S. was in fourth place and only 17 seconds off the lead.
Currier got the U.S. four seconds closer to the lead during his first lap, but he struggled in his first visit to the range when shooting prone. After firing eight shots, including his three spare rounds, Currier had only hit two of five targets, meaning he had to ski three 150-meter penalty loops.
"We were making up time on the lead pack, and we were on pace for something really good," Currier said, "but I really couldn't keep it together for prone and pretty much destroyed our chances of breaking any threshold."
With Paul Smiths native Tim Burke sitting out the relay due to a cold, 18-year-old Sean Doherty of Center Conway, N.H., got the start and skied the third leg. He had to reload three times in his first visit to the range, but he shot clean the second time.
"It was pretty good," Doherty said of his Olympic debut. "A few too many in prone there. Can't be too happy with that, but it was a good race. High pace right from the get-go, but I think I held it together pretty well."
Leif Nordgren of Marine on St. Croix, Minn. skied the anchor leg. He had to reload twice while prone and twice while standing to hit all his targets. It was the first time Nordgren had skied since Tuesday. He's been sick for the last four days.
"I had an OK race," he said. "I kind of struggled a lot in standing with two extras, but it was an OK race. I'm happy with it considering how I feel."
The foursome completed the course in 1:17:39.1, 5:23.2 behind Russia's winning time of 1:12:15.9. The silver medal went to Germany in a time of 1:12:19.4, while Austria won the bronze in 1:12:45.7.
"Relays are tough races," Bailey said about the team's result. "Everyone has to have a good race. It's tough having Tim sick. I think all these guys have the capacity to have world-class performances, but it's a tough sport, and unfortunately when you have a couple penalty laps it sets you back a lot."
Saturday's last biathlon race of the Olympics came a day after German biathlete Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle was kicked out of the games after she tested positive for a banned substance. Despite the incident, Bailey said he believes biathlon is the cleaner than ever.
"I've been tested probably 10 times in the last 12 months by various different anti-doping agencies, and they're getting better and better all the time at catching people," Bailey said. "I'm just an athlete, but my personal opinion is they're better than they ever have been and I think the sport is cleaner than it ever has been. That being said, it's extremely unfortunate for Germany. It's a sad day for them and the sport."
Team USA's biathletes will march in Sunday's closing ceremonies. After that, most will return to the World Cup circuit.