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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MORE: PyeongChang 2018 daily schedule highlights

Tyson Gay keeps sprinting in memory of 15-year-old daughter

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — She ran the 100m and 200m — just like dad. She was so fast and would’ve been a college standout. This he has no doubt.

That’s why Tyson Gay nearly walked away from racing. It was too painful with his daughter gone. So painful that when he trains he feels the stress in his back and can’t shake it off.

Only, she wouldn’t want him to quit. So he keeps sprinting in the memory of his 15-year-old daughter, Trinity , who was shot and killed in October outside a restaurant in Lexington, Kentucky.

“It’s crushing and it never goes away. But you try to live with it,” said Gay , who competes in the first round of the 100m on Thursday night at the USATF Outdoor Championships. “You try to think about the good times.”

Like how she used to visit him in Florida for spring break or Thanksgiving. Or how they had the same teacher in high school and the teacher once playfully told Trinity how much better of a student she was than her father. Or how when he couldn’t spell a word, he would turn and ask her.

Out of habit, he still does that.

“I think about my daughter every day,” Gay said as he sat in a hotel lobby after a training session. “Every day.”

He didn’t hear the phone ring in the early morning hours on Oct. 16. His sister came downstairs and woke him up. Trinity was shot outside a Lexington restaurant after witnesses told police that gunfire was exchanged between two vehicles. She was hit by a stray round. There have been four charged in connection with her death.

“You’re upset you couldn’t be there to stop it,” Tyson Gay said. “It was just a group of honor students, going out to have a good time. And something like that happens? Crazy.

“I cried on the plane the whole way home. I was numb. I probably never cried that hard in my life.”

The tears keep flowing .

“The funeral, the wake, the burial, everything was unreal,” Gay said. “It’s been eight months and it still seems unreal. … I don’t think you ever have peace. I’ve learned to think about the good times, try to block that image of her death out of my mind.”

For the next month, it was hard for him to do much of anything, let alone return to track. After all, running was their thing.

Trinity was a sprinter at Lafayette High in Lexington and finished fourth in the 100m and fifth in the 200m at the state Class 3A high school track meet in May 2016. She also ran on a 4x200m relay team that finished fourth.

She never thought of herself as the daughter of Tyson Gay. She was Trinity Gay.

“I was so proud of her with that,” Gay said. “She was just a happy person. She was happy, loving and wanted to be herself. I never felt like she was in my shadow.”

He returned to training in late November more to “clear my mind and get out of the house,” he said. “You’re looking for closure every day and it doesn’t come. It’s just been tough in that sense.”

At 34, he’s not sure how many years he has left in the sprint game. This season for sure and then he will see how he feels.

Gay is the American record holder in the 100m (9.69 seconds) and he competed in the last three Summer Olympics. He was part of a team that won a silver medal in the 4x100m relay at the 2012 London Games, though that medal was ultimately stripped after Gay tested positive for steroids in 2013.

“I’ve been through every major upset and every major stresser that life can give you,” Gay said. “It’s very hard emotionally. It would’ve been easy for me to quit (track). I’m still fighting.”

She would’ve wanted him to keep running. She had a front row seat at some of his biggest meets.

“Track is something she loved. It’s something I loved,” Gay said. “I had a college coach tell me a year ago, ‘Hey man, we need your daughter to run for us.’ I told her about it and she got tickled. She thought it was so cool. That made me so proud.”

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USA Swimming National Championships broadcast schedule

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NBC Sports will air daily coverage of the USA Swimming National Championships broadcast schedule in Indianapolis next week, part of the Team USA Summer Champions Series.

Olympic gold medalists Katie LedeckyRyan MurphySimone Manuel and Lilly King are expected to headline the field at nationals, where the top two per individual event qualify for worlds in Budapest in July.

NBCSN will air live finals coverage on the first two nights Tuesday and Wednesday, with Universal HD airing the last three nights of finals. Finals start at 6 ET each night.

NBC will also air coverage Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.

NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app will stream all coverage on NBCSN and NBC, plus the USA Swimming webcast on Universal HD nights.

A USA Swimming webcast will live stream all prelim sessions that begin at 9 a.m. ET daily.

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Date Time (ET) Network
Tuesday 7-8 p.m. (LIVE) NBCSN, Streaming
Wednesday 7-8 p.m. (LIVE) NBCSN, Streaming
Thursday 6-8 p.m. (LIVE) Universal HD
Friday 6-8 p.m. (LIVE) Universal HD
Saturday 1-3 p.m. NBC, Streaming
Saturday 6-8 p.m. (LIVE) Universal HD
Sunday 1-3 p.m. NBC, Streaming