Lowell Bailey wins first U.S. biathlon world title, qualifies for Olympic team

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The U.S. has its first world biathlon champion. It’s Lowell Bailey, a 35-year-old who nearly retired a year ago to become a cattle farmer.

Bailey became the first athlete in any sport to qualify for the 2018 U.S. Olympic team by winning the 20km individual race at the world championships in Hochfilzen, Austria, on Thursday.

“It’s a dream come true,” Bailey said in a podium interview, standing with wife Erika and 8-month-old daughter Ophelia, adding later at a press conference, “I am waiting for someone to wake me up.”

Bailey will compete in his fourth Olympics in PyeongChang, but first he can soak up history in Hochfilzen.

Starting No. 100 of 102 entrants, he was one of three to complete the 20km event hitting 20 of 20 shots. He edged Czech Ondrej Moravec by 3.3 seconds for gold after 48 minutes on course. France’s Martin Fourcade, arguably the most dominant athlete in any winter sport at the moment, took bronze.

“I know how important and good it is for biathlon to have some people outside of Europe winning,” Fourcade said. “I couldn’t be more satisfied about another guy winning today.”

Before Thursday, biathlon was the only Winter Olympic sport where the U.S. had yet to win an Olympic or world title. Biathlon has been part of the Olympic program since 1960. Its world championships have been held since 1958.

Before this year, Bailey’s previous best Olympic or worlds finish was eighth. A little more than one year ago, he had it all planned out that the 2015-16 season would be his last:

For his final world championships to be in Oslo, one of the iconic biathlon venues, in 2016. His wife was pregnant. Bailey would return from Europe. They would continue the tradition of his wife’s farming family, which had for nearly 30 years grown seed potatoes and then a herd of more than 100 bison in Upstate New York.

“We were going to start with raising cattle, because when we ran the numbers it just looked like we can actually make a profit,” Bailey said. “Bison are incredibly dangerous and a very risky business. Our plan was to start a cattle business and become beef producers.”

Plans changed late last season.

Bailey received a call from what was described to him as “a fledgling non-profit” in Bozeman, Montana, looking to build a world-class biathlon center for the western United States. They offered him a job — “I didn’t know that jobs like this exist,” Bailey said — and wanted him to continue competing through the 2018 Olympics while helping fundraise on the side.

“Erika and I thought it over,” he said. “We decided to give it a shot.”

Bailey’s early season was nothing too out of his usual results. His top individual World Cup finish was ninth going into worlds.

But he felt confident after skipping a World Cup in early January, giving him an extra week off during the holidays. Plus, the presence of his baby daughter and the feeling of being “part of something bigger.”

In Hochfilzen, Bailey finished fourth in the 10km sprint and sixth in the 12.5km pursuit before his gold on Thursday. An incredible showing given the U.S. has earned three total biathlon medals in the history of the Olympics and world championships — two silvers and one bronze, all at worlds.

Bailey left the fourth and final shooting stop on Thursday 6.4 seconds faster than the time of Moravec, who had gone about 25 minutes earlier. Bailey had one more 4km loop left to ski, which would take about nine minutes.

“The last loop felt like it was 40 kilometers long and not four kilometers long,” Bailey said. “I was fortunate that I was one of the last starters because I knew where Ondrej’s split times were, so I had every member of our staff screaming their heads off at me.”

The lead was cut to one tenth of a second at the last split with 1.1km to go. With 800 meters left, Bailey remembered a U.S. ski technician running alongside the course, telling him, “Now you’re even.”

“If there was ever a time to find this extra something, this is it,” Bailey thought to himself, that six-second advantage gone. “I tried to stay calm, because with ski technique you can flail and expend a lot of energy and not go anywhere.

“I willed myself to get to the finish as fast as I could.”

As Bailey circled that final loop, he thought back to Sunday, when he was in second place after the last shooting stage in the pursuit and faded to sixth skiing to the finish line.

“Watching the medal go away from me, I replayed this last loop in my head probably 1,000 times the last three days,” Bailey said. “I just told myself if I ever have that chance again, that I can’t let that medal go away. So I kept saying that in the last loop today.”

He reached the finish on Sunday a champion. U.S. high-performance director Bernd Eisenbichler emerged and grabbed him by the cheeks. Bailey screamed. And fell to his knees. And screamed. And screamed.

Bailey leaned over, caught his breath and heard his name on the loud speakers. Then he exchanged a handshake with Max Cobb, the president and CEO of US Biathlon, standing behind a barrier.

“This medal belongs to not only me, but I can think of at least 30 or 40 individuals,” Bailey said.

Another American, Susan Dunklee, is set to join Bailey in qualifying for the Olympic team following the completion of world championships races on Sunday.

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Christian Coleman breaks world indoor 60m record (video)

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Christian Coleman is the fastest man of all time — indoors.

The 21-year-old U.S. sprinter broke the world indoor 60m record by clocking 6.37 seconds at his first meet of 2018 in South Carolina on Friday night.

Maurice Greene, the 2000 Olympic 100m champion, held the previous record of 6.39, which he clocked in 1998 and 2001.

The record must still go through ratification procedures, which requires a drug test at the meet.

The 60m is the indoor equivalent of the outdoor 100m. They are the shortest sprints contested at their respective world championships.

Coleman, a 4x100m prelim relay runner at the Rio Olympics, has blossomed into arguably the early 2020 Olympic 100m favorite.

He most memorably clocked a 40-yard dash of 4.12 seconds last spring, which is one tenth faster than the NFL Combine record.

Then in August, Coleman took 100m silver behind Justin Gatlin at the world outdoor championships, beating Usain Bolt in the Jamaican’s final individual race.

There are no world outdoor championships this year, but Coleman could go for the world indoor 60m title in Birmingham, Great Britain, in March.

Coleman’s mark is the first men’s world record in an event contested at a world championships since Wayde van Niekerk broke Michael Johnson‘s 400m world record at the Rio Olympics.

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IOC creates pool of Russians eligible for PyeongChang Olympics

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — The International Olympic Committee said Friday it has created a pool of 389 Russians who are eligible to compete under a neutral flag at next month’s Winter Olympics amid the country’s doping scandal.

An IOC panel whittled down an initial list of 500 to create what the IOC calls “a pool of clean athletes.”

That could potentially make it possible for Russia to meet its target of fielding around 200 athletes in PyeongChang — slightly fewer than in Sochi in 2014, but more than in Vancouver in 2010.

It wasn’t immediately clear why 111 other Russians were rejected by the IOC.

The IOC didn’t list the athletes who were accepted or rejected but said it hadn’t included any of the 46 the IOC previously banned for doping at the Sochi Olympics.

Valerie Fourneyron, the former French Sports Minister leading the invitation process, said the pool also left out any Russians who had been suspended in the past for doping offenses.

“This means that a number of Russian athletes will not be on the list,” she said. “Our work was not about numbers, but to ensure that only clean athletes would be on the list.”

That would appear to rule out potential Russian medal contenders like former NHL hockey player Anton Belov and world champion speed skater Pavel Kulizhnikov, both of whom served bans in the past but have since resumed competing.

“More than 80 percent of the athletes in this pool did not compete at the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014,” the IOC said in a statement. “This shows that this is a new generation of Russian athletes.”

The IOC will use the pool list to issue invitations to Russian athletes to compete in PyeongChang, after checking their record of drug testing and retesting some samples they gave previously.

The IOC also said it recommended barring 51 coaches and 10 medical staff “associated with athletes who have been sanctioned” for Sochi doping.

The IOC has allowed the Russian Olympic Committee to select its preferred athletes despite being suspended by the IOC last month over drug use and an elaborate cover-up at the Sochi Olympics, including swapping dirty samples for clean urine.

Russian sports officials say they simply want to give the IOC recommendations to ensure that top athletes aren’t accidentally left out in favor of reserves.

The Russians will officially be known as “Olympic Athletes from Russia,” and they will wear gray and red uniforms that don’t feature any Russian logos.

If they win gold medals, the Olympic flag will be flown and the Olympic anthem played.

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