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A slip on ice, and Daly’s medal chances go awry

February 15, 2014

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — John Daly never saw the standing ovation he got at the finish line. He didn’t see his family cheering through their anguish, either.

All he could do was bury his head in his hands. He was supposed to be racing for an Olympic medal. Instead, his shot was gone right when it started.

A slip at the start of his fourth and final run of the men’s skeleton competition on Saturday night doomed his chances of competing for a bronze medal at the Sochi Games. He popped a groove, as skeleton racers call it, meaning a runner on his sled came out of the slight indentation in the track and skidded out of control.

When that happens, there’s no saving the run. Or, in this case, the medal chance.

“I feel I let everyone down a little bit,” Daly said afterward, talking through tears.

Daly entered the final run just 0.04 seconds behind U.S. teammate Matt Antoine — one of his closest friends and his roommate at the Sochi Games — in the race for third. He wound up leaving in 15th place.

Daly’s strength in sliding is his ability to start, but even for the world’s elite, mistakes happen. He popped a groove in a World Cup race earlier this season. But he was rolling at these Olympics, just as he and Antoine expected they both would, and with Russia’s Alexander Tretiakov and Lativa’s Martins Dukurs so far ahead of the pack, the Americans truly believed they would be battling for bronze.

Neither would have wanted it decided this way.

“I didn’t see it,” Antoine said. “But when I was walking up to the line, I heard all the groans. I knew something bad had happened.”

Daly bounced off one wall, then the other, legs flailing wildly off the back of the sled as he tried to just get in some sort of safe position. All his speed was gone, there was no miracle he could pull off to stay in the hunt. After he slipped, the only mission was getting down the hill without getting physically hurt.

The emotional hurt, that was already there.

“I guess time heals everything,” Daly said, his words slowing as the tears kept coming. “The toughest part was, I don’t think even though my family’s proud, I could even look at them at the bottom, which was hard for me because I kind of just want to say ‘Hi’ to them. I couldn’t even look up. It was just too much.

“It hasn’t hit me yet how much I just lost,” Daly added. “In time, it will.”

The native of Smithtown, N.Y. is a happy-go-lucky sort, to put it mildly. He’s upbeat, obsessed with his hair in a comical way, and put his personality out for the world to see in a series of videos he made with bobsledder Steve Langton, his roommate at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid. Usually, no matter what happens, he’s unfazed.

Not this time, of course. Yet even in that agonizing moment, he offered perspective.

“It’s tears of sadness but it’s also tears of joy,” Daly said. “The U.S. program, and a guy I grew up with and a guy I slid with my whole career and my whole life, for him to win a medal is a lot of emotion for me as well. So I’m proud of him. I’m proud of my teammate.”

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