Skeleton's John Daly hoping to continue Jimmy Shea's Olympic legacy
Racing in memory of his recently deceased Olympian grandfather Jack, Jimmy Shea and his quest for the 2002 gold medal in men’s skeleton had all the makings of a good story.
Few were rooting as hard for Shea, though, as 16-year-old John Daly.
On the night of Feb. 20, 2002, Daly remembers eagerly awaiting Shea’s race. Shea, a third-generation Olympian, had already raced earlier that day, but Daly didn’t want to hear the results –- he wanted to wait to see the race on primetime TV.
The leader after the first run and the last to go down the track on the second run, Shea got off to a mediocre start.
“I didn’t think [Shea] could do it,” Daly recalled. “But he got it right at the last split and I just remember jumping up in the room, yelling.”
For Daly, Shea winning the gold medal wasn’t just an inspiring story -- he was also Daly’s mentor.
A couple of years earlier, the 14-year-old Daly, who was both shorter and younger than many of the other junior sliders, found himself needing encouragement after a tough day on the ice. And Shea, who would retire after the Salt Lake City Games, was eager to help.
"I was upset with myself and Jimmy was the only guy that came up to me and [cheered me up]," Daly recalled.
“I’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect for John’s dad,” Shea explained. “He’s an EMT and he volunteers in Lake Placid on a regular basis, and that's five hours away from his home in Long Island. When you see these people set such great examples for their kids, you just want to nurture it.”
Almost 12 years have passed since Shea's gold medal run, yet the U.S. men’s skeleton team has not won a medal since.
But with one trip to the Olympics under his belt -– he finished 17th in 2010 -– Daly, who still speaks with Shea, now thinks he can be the one to break that streak in Sochi. It helps that he feels that the Sochi track -– one notable for a number of uphill portions –- fits his style perfectly.
Last season, in the first-ever race on the Sochi track, Daly finished in fourth at the World Cup event. It was exactly where he doesn’t want to finish this year, but still gave him confidence as the 2014 Games approach.
“Everyone has a track that they click with and Sochi just fits with me,” Daly said. “On this track there is no hard steering and you let the sled sort of just ride. I think I’m better at getting on the sled and just totally relaxing and sometimes those more tense drivers are better at the hard-to-steer tracks.”
Embedded owg_slideshow: Growing up: John Daly, skeleton
Daly’s relaxed approach extends far beyond the ice track.
Quick to crack jokes, the five-foot-nine Daly makes his presence known around the Lake Placid Olympic Training Center.
“You always know you’re going to laugh or have fun when [Daly’s] around,” bobsledder Aja Evans said.
And the jokes don’t end in Lake Placid.
This past spring, Daly and his roommate, bobsledder Steve Langton, decided to create a series of YouTube videos, capturing life at Lake Placid’s Olympic Training Center.
With Langton playing the straight man role on their “Daly Nitro” series, Daly clowns around, confusing Winston Churchill with Alexander Hamilton in one episode, trying to prove he’s stronger than his six-foot-three roommate in another.
“It’s all improv,” Daly said. “I think I’m funny, but you can’t really go off of your own opinion.”
Although he’s loose both on-camera and off it, Daly says a strong focus is necessary to succeed on the ice. During races, Daly doesn’t look at opponents’ times. Often, as motivation, he thinks back to his time at the 2010 Games and concentrates on his desire to relive that experience.
“I just remember what [Vancouver] was like and remind myself that I want to get back there,” Daly said. “I loved every minute of it.”
Whereas the experience might have been almost overwhelming for Daly the first time –- “I don’t know how anyone who is competing in their first Olympics wins a medal,” Daly says -- he’s confident that his second trip to the Olympics will have a better outcome.
And maybe he’ll inspire the next generation of skeleton sliders in the process.
Embedded video_content_type: Daly and Langton: Olympic roommates