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Oh, What A Feeling: John Daly Is Sliding — Again — Toward His Fourth Olympic Games

By Peggy Shinn | Nov. 25, 2020, 12:38 p.m. (ET)

John Daly competes at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 on Feb. 7, 2018 in PyeongChang, South Korea.

 

Olympic fans last heard about John Daly when the skeleton athlete was pegged as the “man with the $1 million haircut” by USA Today at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.

“Now this is bulletproof,” Daly told USA Today, sweeping his hand over his always-perfectly-coiffed hair, blow-dried and slicked back with plenty of product. 

“And possibly flammable,” he quipped.

But those Olympic Games did not go as Daly hoped. The affable athlete had made a comeback in 2016 in an attempt to rewrite a chapter of his life—the chapter where he missed the chance to win an Olympic medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games after an unfortunate slip-up on his fourth and final run. But in PyeongChang, Daly fell short again.

Now, almost three years after those Games, Daly is making his second comeback. 

In the two-day national team selection trials last weekend in Lake Placid, the 35-year-old swept both men’s races and qualified as USA-1 ahead of Austin Florian, who made his world cup debut just two years ago. 

Megan Henry—who won a bronze medal in her world cup debut season last winter—swept the women’s selection races to earn her spot as USA-1. Four-time Olympian Katie Uhlaender and 2018 Olympian Kendall Wesenberg will join her as USA-2 and USA-3, respectively. The women have three quota spots available for world cup and intercontinental cup racing this season, while the men have two quota spots.

For Daly, his second comeback is about having no regrets—and winning an Olympic medal. But it’s also about rekindling the passion that comes from having a single-minded focus toward a goal that few can achieve.

First Comeback—2016 
Daly wasn’t exactly a favorite when he went to his second Olympic Winter Games in Sochi in 2014. He had flirted with the world cup podium several times—with several top five finishes. But he had yet to stand on the a world cup podium.

Then after the first day of competition in Sochi, Daly was in medal contention, sitting just a few hundredths of a second behind teammate Matt Antoine, who was in third. But on Daly’s fourth and final run, his sled popped out of the starting groove, and he fell to 15th overall. 

He was devastated. To come that close … 

In the locker room after the race, he let out a scream, then sat against a wall and cried. It was the first time he had cried in a very long time. Back out on the track, he found his family. His dad wiped away his tears and said, “What happens here today will make you the man you are tomorrow.”

Daly ended up retiring from skeleton after the Sochi Games, burying his emotions and taking a job as a medical device sales rep for a company in Washington, D.C. His co-workers had no idea he was an Olympian.

Then in October 2016, he was on a date, and the woman asked what he was passionate about. Daly responded, “Nothing.” 

“It was a very deep date,” he joked. “Usually [I’m very] shallow.”

Over that weekend, he pondered her question. He had passion for his friends and family, and for his job. But it was different. 

“Nothing,” he realized, “is as strong [as passion] for the Olympic Games.” And he still had an unfinished feeling.

Nothing is as strong as my passion for the Olympic Games.

John Daly, Skeleton

So he came back to skeleton that fall and 15 months later, qualified for his third Olympic Games. 

But in PyeongChang, he didn’t click with the track, and the Games were “uneventful.” Daly finished 16th overall—one place better than his Olympic debut in Vancouver in 2010 and one place worse than he finished in Sochi. 

His gelled and styled full head of blonde hair received more media attention than his sliding. 

Second Comeback—2020 
When Daly made his comeback in 2016, he did not say that the PyeongChang Games would be his last.

“You might see me again in two years after this with the exact same story,” he said at the time.

The story is almost exactly the same. Except this time, the person on the date was not a casual acquaintance. It was his girlfriend Kimberly Lindeman.

Out with a couple of friends on June 26, 2020, Daly and Lindeman were discussing Daly’s Olympic career and whether or not he should make another comeback. 

“I don’t think I can do both,” said Daly, referring to training and his full-time job. He had recently accepted a position with Bardy Diagnostics, maker of a heart arrythmia halter monitor, and had moved from Washington, D.C., to Queens.

Lindeman responded, “If you can, you have to. You’re going to regret it.”

Daly realized that she was right. As the cliché goes, you’re only young once.

“I just don’t think I could sit on my couch and watch another Olympic Games if I knew I could make it,” he realized.

That night, Daly texted USA Skeleton’s head coach Tuffy Latour and told him, “I’m coming back.”

Five days later, Latour texted back: “Thanks for the update.”

Unable to work-out in a gym in the middle of the pandemic, Daly dusted off weights in his parents’ basement. He did not slide on a track until November 6, when he drove four-and-a-half hours to Lake Placid, took two runs on the Mt. Hoevenberg track, then drove home. Nine days later, he returned to Lake Placid and took two more runs, then another the next morning before returning to Queens for work. 

While the movements of skeleton are like riding a bike, remembering how fast skeleton sleds can go is another matter. But the sensations are coming back, and he is feeling strong.

He returned to Lake Placid on Friday, November 20, for a weekend of selection trials and won both races.

Now, he has to satisfy IBSF’s 5-3-2 rule: he must compete in five separate races on three different tracks within two years before he can compete on the IBSF World Cup circuit again. He plans to compete in a couple of North American Cup races once they are scheduled, hopefully in December in either Lake Placid or Park City, Utah. Then, he plans to compete in Europe starting in mid-January, pandemic restrictions willing. Meanwhile, he will continue working full-time and training in his parents’ basement. 

“If there’s anyone who can adapt to situations quickly, I would say it’s Olympic athletes,” said Daly with his characteristic optimism. “Nothing really ever goes as you want it, and the person who wins is never the person with a perfect run. It’s the one who adapts the quickest, so that’s very fitting right now.”

Daly’s goal is to finish top 10 in world cups this season, as well as top 10 at the 2021 world championships, should he qualify. If he only slides the intercontinental races this season, he aims to win. Then next season, he wants to build off these results and “be in the hunt for a medal” at the 2022 Beijing Olympic Winter Games.

Daly admits that his life is great and that he does not feel short-changed in any way. But while he is still able, he wants to keep his Olympic fire burning.  

“I have a great, awesome life,” he stated. “There just nothing in this world that’s going to make you feel as alive as competing for a medal in the Olympic Games.”

As for his hair, Daly “loves all the perks that come along with having phenomenal hair,” he joked. “I wouldn’t trade it in for a medal. But ideally, I’d like to have both!”

Peggy Shinn

An award-winning freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered five Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.

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John Daly