FORT KENT – It was a day neither will ever forget.

As much as Lowell Bailey wishes he could.

Sara Studebaker qualified for the final berth in today’s mass start on the final day of the World Cup biathlon competition at the 10th Mountain Ski Center.

She made the elite field of 30 women for the first time in her career by placing 27th in a snowy pursuit race Saturday after finishing 17th in Friday’s sprint.

Studebaker, a 26-year-old native of Boise, Idaho, who skied at Dartmouth College, will be the only American racing today. She earned the fifth of five at-large berths awarded on the basis of this weekend’s sprint and pursuit results.

Bailey, a fellow U.S. Olympian, probably would have joined her.

If only he had remembered his bullets.

“I spaced,” said Bailey, still in shock after a bizarre incident halfway through his 12.5-kilometer pursuit race. “I didn’t bring two out of the four clips.”

Through two prone stages, Bailey had hit 9 of 10 targets and moved up four places. He hopped on his skis from the hard-packed snow to the Kelly green shooting mat and flipped the safety off the end of his .22-caliber rifle.

Things had been going well for Bailey, a Lake Placid, N.Y., native who trained here in Fort Kent with the Maine Winter Sports Center in 2005 and ’06. A mistake in his final shot of Friday’s sprint race had dropped him to 31st place entering Saturday’s pursuit, but he was skiing fast and making up ground.

As he unharnessed the rifle from his back on Point 27 near the left end of the range for his first standing stage, Bailey’s stomach dropped.

Two of the four cartridges containing five bullets each were missing. He had no ammo. He had forgotten to reload after zeroing in his rifle before the race. The official who inspected his gun to make sure it contained no live rounds overlooked the missing clips as well.

“It was my error, it was my mistake,” said Bailey after several long moments bent over, head in hands, struggling with limited success to keep a lid on the guttural wail that seemed ready to erupt from within him.

“I just focused way too much on my zero,” he said. “I was worried about my prone and the wind and really focusing on that and I … I don’t know what else to say. I’m really disappointed.”

Because he is left-handed, Bailey’s back was to the two U.S. coaches who already had put their eyes to their spotting scopes, focusing on the five targets that remained black, awaiting the bullets that Bailey, twisting around, was now frantically waving his arms to acquire.

“No one saw,” he said quietly. “A comedy of errors.”

Finally, after what seemed an eternity but was probably on the order of 30 seconds, a referee was alerted and he brought Bailey additional clips.

Somehow, Bailey managed to load and quickly drop all five targets, but the damage was done. He had spent nearly a minute in the range, half of it standing helplessly on the mat.

He hit 18 of 20 targets but finished only 25th — 3 minutes, 23.7 seconds behind winner Emil Hegle Svendsen of Norway. The results from Bailey’s sprint and pursuit made him one of seven alternates for today’s mass start instead of putting him in the 30-man field.

“I would have made it if I had loaded my clips,” Bailey said.

Had he ever forgotten his bullets before?

“Never,” he said.” Not even in my first biathlon race. I’ve skied the wrong loops before, I’ve … ” — he glanced toward the overcast sky and sighed — “this is a first for me.”

If there is a silver lining, Bailey said, it is that he hit 9 of 10 targets in standing and remained competitive.

He’ll try to remember that and not think of the 10 men who finished ahead of him by less than half a minute.

“That’s the bittersweet part of it,” he said, “that I was able to stay in the race mentally. But …”

He shook his head again.

“You’ve just got to move forward.”

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

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