John Daly came back to the U.S. skeleton team primarily seeking one thing, and it wasn’t a medal.
It was closure.
The perfect scenario for Daly four years ago at the Sochi Olympics would have been for him to put together four great runs, and end his sliding career on his sport’s biggest stage feeling like he couldn’t have done any more. He had three great runs, only to see a disaster-filled fourth run take away any chance for a medal and drive him into a teary start on retirement.
Daly returned to sliding a couple years ago, got back on the national team and he’ll be in the Pyeongchang Olympics next month, savoring the opportunity to get it right this time. He and 2014 Olympic bronze medalist Matt Antoine are the two sliders who qualified to represent the U.S. in men’s skeleton.
“It’s not unfinished business, but more like an unfinished feeling,” Daly said. “The fourth run of your Olympics is supposed to be the most fun run of your career. I didn’t get that. I didn’t get that closed feeling, that closed-chapter feeling of my career. And that’s kind of what I want. That’s what I’m looking for.”
That said, a medal is very much a lure as well.
He’s not going to Pyeongchang as a medal favorite — Daly has been in eight World Cup races since unretiring and his best finish is a pair of 10th-place showings when competing against the world’s best. But he’s trending in the right direction, feeling more and more natural on the sled again as the year has gone along. And coaches, all season, have raved about Daly’s work ethic.
“I think he finally realizes that he’s getting back to his old sliding self and just looking forward for redemption at the Olympic Games,” USA Skeleton coach Brian McDonald said.
Daly doesn’t even try to avoid what happened in Sochi. He knows it’s as big a part of his story as anything else.
Daly and Antoine were contending for the bronze medal, and going into the fourth and final heat of the two-day competition Antoine was in third place, Daly in fourth. There are narrow grooves in the ice, and sliders try to keep their runners — the pieces of steel that the sled slides on — in them at the start to try and begin on the straightest path possible.
Daly started running as fast as he could, going all-out for the medal. And then his sled popped out of that groove, sending him out of control. All his speed was immediately gone, he knew the medal hopes were over and he endured a cold ride to the bottom on the way to a 15th-place finish.
“I couldn’t go out like that,” Daly said.
It’s one of the few topics where Daly’s voice almost turns somber.
On almost any other matter — including his hair, which is coiffed perfectly at all times and made him a celebrity in Sochi — he tends to be hilarious. He’s made a series of videos over the years with close friend and U.S. bobsledder Steve Langton, did some Olympic promos last year where he discussed crushes, and even recently appeared on “Top Chef” as a celebrity judge.
At 32, he knows his third Olympics might be the finale. He’s pulled off his comeback while working full-time in the medical sales industry for a company in Washington, and done so with their blessing.
“Anyone who knows me knows how much I wanted this,” Daly said.
So he’s now off to Pyeongchang, simultaneously relaxed and ready.
“It’s about putting it together on that day,” Daly said. “I’ve been there many times. The Olympics is something that really gets to me as far as the nerves. There’s an energy you can use there to step up and be a champion — or watch somebody else be one. I’ve got to go and slide the way that I know I can.”
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