John Daly poses for a portrait at the Team USA Media Summit ahead of the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 on Sept. 25, 2017 in Park City, Utah.
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea -- That’s not how it was supposed to end.
An Olympic medal in men’s skeleton dangled within reach when John Daly prepared for his final run in Sochi. But then his sled popped out of the groove, and he lost valuable time regaining control. The rest of his run was simply a way for Daly to make it to the bottom of the track. His Games had already ended.
“It was like tripping and falling in the woods,” said Daly, a U.S. skeleton athlete. “And when you get to the end of the trail, the rest of the world is waiting for you.”
He’s watched the video, trying to make sense of what happened in the mishap that caused him to plummet from fourth to 15th. The memory is still vivid. He doesn’t think it’ll ever disappear.
That ending in Sochi gave Daly an “unfinished feeling,” he said. He retired after the 2014 Games, only to come back to the sport in time for PyeongChang. Four years since Daly ended his Games with his hands covering his face, he’ll finally have another chance. And it’s a chance Daly didn’t initially foresee.
After Sochi, Daly moved to Washington D.C. and started a job as a medical device sales representative. Unless asked, Daly wouldn’t bring his past Olympic endeavors into conversations. Most people, he said, just knew him as John from New York.
Almost two years after competing in Russia, Daly’s teammate Matt Antoine planned to fly to Germany for a competition but had to make a detour in the nation’s capital because his passport had expired.
Daly and Antoine, the 2014 bronze medalist, hung out for a night. They laughed a lot and talked about their positive experiences in the sport. They didn’t bring up the 2014 Games, Daly said. Before Antoine headed out, he gave his U.S. teammate one suggestion — come back to skeleton.
“I don’t know, man,” Daly said.
“Just think about it,” Antoine said.
That brief conversation, Antoine said, “got the ball rolling in his head a little bit.”
But for the time being, Daly continued on with his new life in Washington, a life in which training for PyeongChang wasn’t on the agenda.
About a year later, Daly went on a date, and the woman asked him what he was passionate about. Daly didn’t have an answer.
“At that time in my life,” Daly said, “I don't think I found anything I was as passionate about as skeleton or the Olympic Games.”
A few days later, Daly emailed USA Bobsled & Skeleton. Soon after, he began training and then competed again in January 2017.
Daly still works full-time, but PyeongChang became part of the plan. At home, Daly wakes up at 5 a.m. so he can train before work and then does so again in the evening. Daly has quickly surged back to the Olympic level, but his goal for PyeongChang is simple.
He wants what was taken from him in Sochi — that fourth run.
The final slide down the track, Daly said, is supposed to be the most enjoyable. Afterward, athletes smile as they see friends and family watching from the stands. It marks the conclusion of a season, sometimes a career.
In 2014, Daly didn’t get that feeling. In PyeongChang, he finally can.
“I just want to rewrite my ending,” Daly said.
Emily Giambalvo is a student in the sports media program at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. She is part of TeamUSA.org’s coverage team for the PyeongChang Games.