Lowell Bailey: Sustained Competitive Excellence

In 2017, Lowell Bailey’s World Championships gold helped ignite the sport across America. Today, as high performance director for U.S. Biathlon, Bailey remains at the forefront guiding the upstart organization in its march to sustained competitive excellence. Bailey talked to Heartbeat during the team’s vital pre-season camp at Soldier Hollow in October.

U.S. Biathlon is now well into execution on its strategic plan, which is taking the long view out to 2030 as to how it can develop sustained competitive excellence. While much of that plan focuses on high performance, other elements look at growing the sport through more biathlon club programs across the country, or talent transfer – helping cross country skiers discover biathlon.

On the talent transfer, think about how many cross country skiers across America were motivated to see Jessie Diggins try biathlon at the Soldier Hollow camp?

In this episode of Heartbeat, Bailey recaps last season – which had some impactful high points – and looks to the season ahead, which starts in late November. But he also dives deep into the strategic plan and how U.S. Biathlon is moving down the pathway to sustained competitive excellence.

To start, Lowell, how important is this Soldier Hollow camp?
We've been doing this camp for decades now. It's such a great time of year to be in Utah for our last dryland training camp. The importance of it is that it’s the final training block before we get into the fine tuning section of the season, which leads up to the on snow camp in Scandinavia.  It's the culmination of a ton of hard work by the athletes starting in May and also mixed in as some team qualifications.

And this year you’re also celebrating Utah as the new headquarters of U.S. Biathlon?
It's hugely important for the organization. We're expanding at a pretty rapid pace these days. There are a lot of new clubs coming online. Our organizational priorities or objectives, are really about building our clubs and building our outreach. We've really had a pretty good presence in the northeast for, for a long time, some good venues there. In the West, there are also great venues, great clubs. And so this just adds to all the groundwork that they've laid over the years and puts, you know, USBA puts its presence out here on the West Coast.

That club growth is a key part of your plan. What are you seeing?
Lowell Bailey: [00:02:52] Yeah, I mean, that is our hope that the club participation is increasing. We're seeing that now. We're seeing new clubs [00:03:00] come online. We're seeing growth in participation at existing clubs. And you know, I think a lot of that credit goes to the, you know, the club organizers, volunteers and also with U.S. Biathlon. You know we've put resources and personnel dedicated to that purpose of helping clubs as they continue to grow.

In our last episode ofHeartbeat, we talked to Campbell Wright. What impact can he have on the team as a whole?
Campbell trained with the national team throughout last year and was, by all intents and purposes, a national team member throughout last season and now IS a national team member. We have some young athletes who continue to post some impressive results and they did last season. But what's really exciting is there's a whole group of that generation of athletes that's training together daily, pushing each other daily, and that type of sort of critical mass is so important in raising the bar of the whole team.

Talent transfer is also a key part of your strategic plan. Can you share an example?
In biathlon, since it's a sport that involves cross country skiing and rifle marksmanship, what you see across really the whole international scene is cross country – skiers at an elite level will make that jump. What we saw last year was Margie Freed from the Craftsbury Green Racing project. She chose to kind of stick her neck out and try biathlon. She didn't have a whole lot of experience up to that point, really jumping in with both feet. And she jumped into our trials in December and qualified for our IBU Cup team and then went on to post a 19th place, which was our American top finish on the IBU Cup last year. More importantly, she posted a second fastest course time and did that several times where she had top five course times. And in biathlon, you know right now the international field is really, really competitive. Races are won by half a second and ski speed is just so important. It's my opinion that that shooting can be taken up in a much shorter time than it is to learn how to cross country ski at an elite level. So the ski speed aspect of the sport is just so important.

Tom Kelly: [00:24:29] When you [00:24:30] look at the whole blend of things that you have in this plan, it's really quite detailed. Are the athletes understanding this? Do they? Do they feel that they have a plan that they can sink their teeth into and they can stick with now over the next 6 or 7 years?

As you continue to move down the roadway on the strategic plan, 
We're building that backing and momentum. And this plan didn't just get created in a vacuum. It had a lot of stakeholders that contributed, including athlete representatives and also our board of directors. So it's a group effort. Obviously at the end of the day, it's the athlete that's on the course that's out there racing. But as we all know, there's so much that goes into just getting competitive athletes to the start line at an Olympic Games.

Finally, Lowell, what’s the toughest thing you've done athletically yourself in the last year?
Unfortunately, it's not that impressive. You'll have to ask our team general manager, Federico Fontana because his is more impressive than mine. Watch for that in upcoming episode 4!

There’s plenty more from Lowell Bailey on the future direction of U.S. Biathlon on Heartbeat episode three. <<LINK>> 

Heartbeat: US Biathlon Podcast (c) US Biathlon