John Daly needed to overcome the smallest of margins to pass U.S. skeleton teammate Matt Antoine for bronze-medal position on his fourth and final run at the Sochi Olympics.
But Daly’s sled popped out of the start groove, sending him into a skid. He had no chance of recovering.
He slowly rode the rest of the way down the track, knowing that his medal hopes had evaporated.
“I was devastated,” Daly said to NBC. “My world as I knew it came crashing down.”
When he finally finished, he ran to his father, Jim.
Jim, a Vietnam War veteran and a retired FDNY paramedic, did not let his son feel sorry for himself for long.
“My father held my crying face and said to me, ‘What happened here today, will make you the man you are tomorrow,’” Daly recalled.
Dealing with the disappointment took time. He admitted to USA Bobsled and Skeleton that he went to a “really dark place” and “ran away from everything” he knew.
He retired from the sport and moved to Washington, D.C. for a job selling medical devices. He avoided checking results during the 2014-15 World Cup season. Even watching the Opening Ceremony of the 2016 Rio Olympics proved too painful.
But Antoine kept encouraging Daly to return to the sport, knowing their rivalry made them both better.
“We had pushed each other to be in that position [in Sochi],” Antoine said. “Without the other one, neither of us would have been battling for a bronze medal.”
Daly announced his comeback in Nov. 2016 by releasing a video on social media. Daly, who claims his hair is “wind proof, helmet proof and bullet proof,” used the hashtag #StillHavePerfectHair in the social media post.
“After a few years away from the sport, I had that fire inside me back and I decided I couldn’t go out like that,” Daly said. “I never wanted to come back, but somehow it crept up on me and I decided I have to do this, and I can’t wait.”
During his comeback 2016-17 season, Daly finished third at Nationals, behind Antoine and Nathan Crumpton.
Daly is still working full-time as a medical device sales rep as he prepares for the 2018 Winter Olympics. He sets his alarm for 5:30 a.m., works for eight hours and then begins about five hours of training in the evening.
He wears a necklace that reads: “It’s not going to be easy, but it’s going to be worth it.”
Daly now has a sense of humor about his experience at the 2014 Winter Games. He even jokes that he keeps his Olympic medal at Antoine’s house. Antoine, who Daly describes as his biggest rival and one of his best friends, claimed the bronze medal in Sochi.
But Daly’s heartbreak at the 2014 Olympics is still his main motivation.
“I want to rewrite my own ending,” Daly said. “I’m hunting for a medal this time. Leaving it all out there.”