HOCHFILZEN, Austria — One year after considering his retirement, Lowell Bailey became the first American biathlete to win a world championships gold medal on Thursday.
Bailey upset the pre-race favourites in the 20-kilometre individual competition as he hit all 20 targets and skied faster than other clean shooters.
"This is the most perfect day of my biathlon career," Bailey said.
"To shoot clean at world championships and to have unbelievable material, every single part of my race came together today. I will remember this for the rest of my life."
He edged Ondrej Moravec of the Czech Republic by 3.3 seconds. Olympic and three-time world champion Martin Fourcade of France missed two targets and finished 21.2 behind to take the bronze medal.
The world title crowned a 15-year World Cup career that could have ended a year ago. After last season, Bailey thought about quitting the sport as he and his wife, Erika, were expecting their first child.
"I am glad I didn't stop," said Bailey, who thanked his wife for enabling him to continue. "She supported me in that decision.
"We had our daughter, Ophelia, this summer, which made things much more interesting as a family. So we had to be creative in how I train and what I did this year. But it all worked out and I am so thankful for them, and everyone who has helped me so far."
Bailey's gold is the fourth medal for an American biathlete at the worlds, and the first since Tim Burke won silver in the same discipline four years ago.
The others were a silver in 1987 for Josh Thompson in the individual competition, and a bronze in 1984 by the women's 3x5K relay team of Holly Beatie, Julie Newman and Kari Swenson.
Wearing bib No. 100, Bailey started the race second to last. By that time, Moravec looked set to take the gold as favourites Fourcade and Anton Shipulin of Russia faltered on the shooting range.
Shipulin missed twice in his first shooting stage and though he shot flawlessly afterward, failed to make up the lost time on the track. The Russian finished 43.9 seconds behind Bailey in seventh.
Fourcade lost the chance of his fourth straight world title in the discipline when he missed the first target in each round of his prone shooting, but the Frenchman skied fast enough to secure a spot on the podium.
On Friday is the women's 4x6K relay.