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Unfinished business prompts return to skeleton

John Daly seeks another shot at Olympic glory after disappointing mistake in 2014

A question during a date brought John Daly out of retirement and back to the U.S. skeleton team.

Around two years ago while socializing, a woman asked Daly what he was most passionate about. That’s when he experienced an epiphany.

Competition dates

  • Men’s skeleton, Feb. 14-15.

“After I thought about it, I realized, for me, there is nothing like competing in the Olympic Games,” Daly said. “It is such a different element. Out of everything I’ve done in my life, nothing has made me feel like competing in the Olympics did.”

Daly, 32 and a former All-America decathlete at Plattsburgh State, left skeleton after the bitter disappointment of not winning a medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. A strong run in the fourth and final heat was all that separated Daly from his goal of standing on the Olympic podium.

Unfortunately, he made a huge mistake at the beginning of the race where his sled popped out of the starting groove, and he faded to finish 15th in the final standings. After the anger and sadness wore off, he decided to end his career in skeleton, where competitors travel headfirst on a sled down the course.

Daly originally took up the sport in his youth, but in college he turned to track and field and thrived at Plattsburgh State. He set school records in the indoor pentathlon (3,465 points), long jump (7.01 meters) and decathlon (6,786 points), a sport in which he became an All-American. But that success provided something more: his training regimen in the decathlon was similar to what has led to success in skeleton. So immediately after graduating in 2007, Daly became known as one of the fastest-starting athletes in skeleton, helping him finish second on the European Cup tour in 2008-09.

But after the setback in the 2014 Winter Games, Daly left his native New York and moved to Washington, D.C., to take a job as a sales representative for a pharmaceutical company that specializes in making products to help children with sleeping disorders.

Since skeleton isn’t a high-profile sport in America, no one knew he had spent most of his 20s competing as a world-class athlete.

Daly enjoyed the break from the regimented training required in skeleton.

But the one innocent question from his date brought on the realization that he still had it in him to compete at the highest level. Still, he needed more confirmation to make the comeback.

In October 2016, he went to Lake Placid, New York, to conduct some training runs.

“I wanted to make sure I still had the mental and physical capacity to do the sport,” said Daly, who will be competing for the U.S. in this year’s Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. “I figured, since I still had the ability to compete, I could rewrite my ending.”

Daly has a vibrant personality, so it may be hard for anyone who has met him to see how much his disappointing finish in the 2014 Winter Games affected him.

“I hadn’t cried in a long time,” Daly said. “My life had been easy. I didn’t have any hardships in skeleton. I had a great support system, and it was an unfamiliar feeling for me.”

Daly entered his last run in 2014 knowing he needed to make up four-hundredths of a second to claim the bronze medal. Not giving himself a chance for a clean run is the part that haunted him.

“I could have handled coming in first, fourth or last,” Daly said. “I have an unfinished feeling about the whole thing.”