“I’m still waiting to wake up,” said 24-year-old John Daly, a first-time Olympian and member of Team USA’s skeleton squad, as he ponders what lies ahead in Vancouver.
“The thought of it is just amazing. I’m a long shot there, and I’m just going to go for it with the best of my ability. If it’s the result I want, I’ll be happy but if not, well, I’m at the Winter Olympics.”
Daly, an All-American decathlete from Smithtown, NY, will join around 250 other Americans to compete at the 2010 Games in Whistler, British Columbia next month.
Once the Games begin, Daly, along with teammates Zach Lund and 2006 Olympian Eric Bernotas, will stand at the top of the imposing 1,395-meter, 16-turn ice track. When his time comes, Daly will sprint along the start of the course before diving head first and face down onto his sled, firing himself down one of the fastest tracks in the world in search of Olympic glory.
“It’s the closest thing you can get to flying,” Daly told Bleacher Report. “Sometimes you feel like that sled isn’t even underneath you. It’s so smooth and you can feel the pressure as you go around the turns. It just feels like you’re flying down the track.”
After thundering around Lueders Loop, Lynx, Shiver, and Gold Rush Trail—names given to various turns of the track—the run will be over. In less than two minutes, Daly could have earned one of the very highest accolades in his sport.
With Daly peaking at just the right moment and the Olympics just around the corner, the timing is almost perfect. But while Daly was the third and final athlete to be selected to the national team, he has quietly had an excellent last few years.
He won back-to-back America’s Cup races in Lake Placid in April 2008, and he finished second overall in the 2008-09 European Cup, winning six medals in seven weeks; two gold (in Igls and St. Moritz), two silver (in Winterburg and Altenberg), and two bronze (in Cesana and Altenberg).
Still, by the time the national qualifiers rolled around last October, Daly was not convinced that he was in good enough form to go to the Olympics. He had even gone as far as booking a flight back to his training camp in Lake Placid rather than to Vancouver where the likely Olympic squad was scheduled to practice on the official 2010 track.
“I definitely wasn’t where I wanted to be,” Daly said. “I guess I stopped caring, that is probably the best way to put it. It was like I stopped caring about the results. At the end of the day I had to tell myself ‘Hey, I tried my best. It is not the result I wanted, but it is what it is.’
“But then I did very well in the European Cup and I started to come alive.”
Daly carried his momentum into the national qualifiers, where he placed inside the top two in three of the four races, effectively sealing his place as the team’s third and final racer.
“I kinda knew then that I had made the team,” Daly said, “because it was between me and Matt Antoine and I had beat him in the last three meets.”
Daly, who originally started with the luge at the age of 14 before switching to the skeleton three months later, had almost certainly done enough to secure the final place on the Olympic roster, but it was still at the coaches' discretion. Over the next three months, he effectively made the decision for them.
He finished inside the top 20 in three of the four World Cup events in November and December, and he finished 2009 by picking up gold medals in back-to-back America's Cup meets in Lake Placid.
2010 started just as well for the Long Island native, as Daly extended his winning streak to six victories in a row with Intercontinental Cup wins in Lake Placid, Calgary twice, and Park City.
Two days later and it was official. John Daly was going to the Olympics.
The only problem was a lack of cell phone coverage meant he couldn't get in touch with his family and friends. When he finally was able to share the news, the reaction was overwhelming.
“My dad started screaming, my mom started crying. Sometimes I think that they wanted it more than I did,” Daly joked.
But the reality was very real. Daly, a PR and advertising graduate from SUNY Plattsburgh—a college in upstate New York, just a short drive from Lake Placid—was going to compete on the grandest stage of them all. People from across the world were going to watch him race, just as he had watched Olympians in Lillehammer in Norway on TV—his earliest Olympic memory.
“My parents were both very much into the Olympics,” Daly said. “The very first memory I have of the Olympics is of my mother cheering when Dan Jansen had won his speed skating gold medal.
“She didn’t really know anything about sports at the time but this lady knew everything about every athlete on the US team. That’s when I realized that if my mother, who knew nothing about sports, knows about the Olympics, then it was bigger than just some sporting event.”
Daly is currently stationed at the team's camp in Utah, giving necessary blood samples and making final preparations with his fellow skeleton racers. Inside the Team USA camp, everything is good.
Daly said: “It’s great. We’re all happy. I guess the hard part is over. There’s three medals to be taken and there’s three of us. We’re all helping each other, and I’m trying to learn as much as I can from the other guys—they have helped me out a lot.
“We’ve been speaking about what we do at each corner and what to do further down the track if you’re too high, things like that.
“I’m trying to help them out with their starts because I’m faster at the start and they’re usually faster in the track. I guess I’m doing my part to help them back, but I don’t think there’s a lot they can learn from me.”
With everything in place, Daly and the squad will fly to San Francisco next Monday before catching a connecting flight to Vancouver where they will check in to the Olympic Village and receive their clothing. After the opening ceremony on Feb. 12, Daly and the skeleton competitors will have three days of final training, making two runs down the track each day before the first day of the competition.
On Feb. 18, nine years of hard work, training, and dedication will come to a head. Four runs, two days, one dream.
Four times Daly will gaze down the Olympic course. He will stand alone at the top of the winding track as millions of viewers await his descent. Four times Daly will fly.
Citius. Altius. Fortius. Swifter. Higher. Stronger.
Win or lose, Daly will come to rest at the bottom of Blackcomb Mountain. Win or lose, Daly will be on top of the world.