ANTHOLZ, Italy - Lowell Bailey of Lake Placid finished 12th in Thursday's sprint competition on the opening day of IBU World Cup biathlon competition in Antholz.
Bailey finished in 24:24.9, just 48.7 seconds behind winner Anton Shipulin of Russia. With the 10th-best ski time, Bailey achieved the impressive finish despite one penalty each in prone and standing shooting position at the range.
Bailey also outskied Norwegian superstar Emil Hegle Svenden, who finished 14th and had two penalties.
Bailey's top finish before Thursday came in 2008 in a pursuit race in Korea, where he finished 11th.
"My skiing improved a lot over the last weeks, but I feel I need that break after Antholz to gain more confidence in my shooting," Bailey said. "Of course, I am not too upset about those two misses as this is a quite difficult range, but on the other hand it is still not perfect."
Some other competitors seemed to experience difficulties in the third race week of the new year, especially since Antholz is located at more than 5,200 feet above sea level. Some of the best biathletes in the world struggled, like World Cup leader Tarjei Boe of Norway,who finished in 51st place, far behind Bailey.
For the U.S. team, the altitude didn't seem to be a problem.
"We spent a lot of training days in altitude this summer, and over Christmas I came here to prepare for the January World Cups," Bailey said. "I'm used to the altitude and to the course, that might have been an advantage."
With this performance, Bailey has earned a spot in Saturday's mass start competition. It will be the first mass start for the U.S. men's team this season. Laura Spector recently achieved that qualification in Oberhof earlier this month for the women's team.
"When I set my goals for this season, I said I wanted to be in the mass start at the World Champs. So that is actually a great start," Bailey said.
When it comes to Saturday's competition, Bailey said he just wants "to do well." The reason for that is simple: "I stopped setting a specific goal when it comes to the ranking last year. It didn't work out so well, so I go way better if I just focus on doing my best," he said.
Tim Burke of Paul Smiths posted the second-best U.S. result with a 34th place. The sixth best time on the skis might also have caused Burke to struggle at the last shooting stage, leading him to miss three targets.
"I don't know what happened," Burke said. "When I came to the shooting range I was feeling OK, but as soon as I stood there my legs were shaking so badly that I actually thought the targets are moving."
Racing continues today in Antholz, with Haley Johnson of Lake Placid starting in the women's sprint.