John Daly had not been in a skeleton race for nearly three years. He wasn’t rusty.
The two-time U.S. Olympian won the first USA Skeleton team trials race of the season Friday at Mount Van Hoevenberg in Lake Placid, New York, the first step toward qualifying for the World Cup team this season — and, quite possibly, making the team that will compete in the 2022 Beijing Olympics.
The 35-year-old Daly was the fastest in both heats, finishing his two runs in 1 minute, 49.10 seconds. That was 0.21 seconds faster than returning national-teamer Austin Florian, and no one else in the field was within a second of Daly’s combined time.
“It was a surprise to me; three years off the sled is still three years off the sled,” said Daly, whose last official race was the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics. “I’m excited to keep moving forward. It’s very much like riding a bike. You’re a little more achy, a little more sore, but it’s very much like riding a bike.”
It’s a most uncertain time for the U.S. sliding programs because of the ongoing coronavirus battle and the difficulties that come with traveling internationally during a pandemic. The bobsled-skeleton World Cup circuit opened Friday in Sigulda, Latvia, with no U.S. representation. The earliest that American sliders will go to Europe for races is January, and even that is in some doubt.
Same goes for USA Luge: World Cup racing opens in that sport next weekend, and the Americans are not going to travel until early next year at the earliest.
Daly, if he makes the team and if the U.S. elects to compete in some World Cups, said he does plan to go to Europe. He hasn’t been a full-time athlete for years; he works full-time in New York and has been training on his own to stay fit. He drove to Lake Placid for only five training runs before racing for real on Friday.
“You don’t know what level you’re at until you get back on ice,” Daly said. “I guess I passed the test.”
The U.S. women’s skeleton team trials started Friday as well, with Megan Henry winning the opening race over Kendall Wesenberg and four-time Olympian Katie Uhlaender.