All it took was six curves of the track (or a few seconds) and John Daly knew he was back.
Competing in a North American Cup skeleton race Saturday in Park City, Utah, Daly won by nearly half a second.
It was his first competition since the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games 35 months ago.
And he followed that up with another win on Sunday.
“It felt good,” Daly said Saturday. “Once I went through one of the difficult parts of the track, Curve 6, I kind of knew I won. Right after I nailed that I said OK, I pretty much just won.”
The two-time Olympian retired after the Sochi Games, where was in medal position heading into the fourth and final run of the competition when his sled popped a groove during the start, resulting in a 15th-place finish and one of the more heartbreaking moments of the Games.
He announced his return to the sport this past November and said he has one goal in mind: an Olympic medal.
The five training runs the 31-year-old had this week leading up to his first race were his only runs on the Park City track since he raced a world cup there in December 2013.
“There are little, subtle things you forget – kind of like when I was warming up,” Daly said. “I probably got ready too soon because I was anxious to race. There are little pre-race rituals you forget to do… I’ll basically be tuning that in all season, but it’s good to be back.”
In Saturday’s race, which was shortened to a one-run format due to track conditions, Daly won in 49.77 seconds, while Australia’s John Farrow was second in 50.24 and Great Britain’s Kenny Howard third in 50.33.
On Sunday, Daly was second in each of the two runs but proved to be the most consistent slider, taking gold in a combined time of 1:43.62, ahead of Great Britain’s Marcus Wyatt (1:43.81) and South Korean Jisoo Kim (1:44.42). Wyatt and Kim won the first and second runs, respectively.
The Park City races marked a successful start to a comeback Daly hopes sees several more trips to the podium.
“It was pretty smooth to get back in the rhythm and it just builds your confidence up,” he said. “It’s not that I have a lot of doubt, but there’s a lot of unknowns as to whether I can still do this, so this is a great starter.”
But he has his work cut out for him before he returns to the highest level of the sport. To even be considered for the world cup team, Daly must complete five races on three tracks across two seasons. And he plans to fit all fives races in a matter of two weeks, heading straight from Park City to St. Moritz, Switzerland, for a Jan. 12 race, followed by back-to-back races in Lake Placid, New York, Jan. 19-20.
“One down, four more to go,” he said after his first race. “And then hopefully from there we’ll get another call up to race six and seven on the middle-level tour (Intercontinental Cup), then hopefully another call up to race eight and nine on the world cup/world championships.”