By Ian Ransom
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) – It took only seconds for John Daly’s dream of an Olympic medal to be crushed at the Sochi Games but a full three years before the American skeleton racer was prepared to face his demons again.
A 28-year-old in his second Olympics, Daly was just outside the medal positions heading into the fourth and final round in Sochi but his sled missed the groove at the start of his run and he zig-zagged wildly before regaining control.
There was no coming back from the horror start, however, and his anguish as he slid over the finish line with his head in his hands was one of the most devastating images of the Russian Games.
An emotionally gut-wrenching TV interview followed as the Smithtown, New York resident struggled to hold back tears and wished aloud for just “one more run”.
Four years later Daly, will have four runs at the Pyeongchang Games and he has strapped himself in for another emotional roller-coaster.
“This is kind of a moment that I thought I would never truly have again,” Daly told Reuters.
“And I thought it was a moment that was gone forever and to be able to come back again, it’s cliched, but it really is a dream come true.
“I’ve kind of got every emotion running through me now, anxiety, nerves, I feel like I can laugh or cry and run through the wall.”
Daly thought he could get over the Sochi disappointment by putting away his sled, moving from New York to Washington DC and taking on the civilian life of a salary-man in marketing for a medical technology firm.
“I got a real job that didn’t involve wearing spandex,” he joked.
Life could have gone on in that uncomplicated way indefinitely but for a couple of serendipitous moments involving his former team mate and bronze medalist Matt Antoine and a night out with a woman.
Antoine had to cancel a trip to Germany due to a passport problem and the seed was planted over a catch-up.
Later, out on a first date, the girl asked my what my passion was,” said Daly.
“And I didn’t have an answer. I realized I didn’t have a passion nearly as big as competing at an Olympic Games or skeleton.”
Three days later, Daly emailed his federation and made his return to the ice track in January, 2017.
He will be back on the big stage for the preliminaries at the Olympic Sliding Centre on Thursday along with good friend Antoine, his room mate at the athletes’ village.
Wisconsin man Antoine also nearly gave away skeleton for good as he battled depression following his Sochi medal, a condition the 32-year-old continues to manage.
Antoine was among the first to console Daly after his let-down in Sochi and his words struck a deep chord.
“This guy just won a bronze medal and his first thought was to give me a hug and say, ‘I would have not have won this medal if it wasn’t for you. You and I would never be as good as we are if we didn’t have each other’,” said Daly.
“That was one of the best things he ever said to me.”
Daly, who won a team world championship in 2013, has no hesitation to say he is gunning for medals at Pyeongchang.
Four clean runs would do, of course, but he knows anything can happen.
“I think all the sliding athletes do it for that reason,” he said. “Things can go wrong, but when they go right it is so sweet.”
(Editing by Ed Osmond)