Smithtown's John Daly described his road toward qualifying for next month's Vancouver Winter Olympics as a "roller coaster." He should know.

VIDEO: Long Island Olympian John Daly

Daly, 24, competes in that joy-ride event known as skeleton, riding down mountains - face first - on a metal and fiberglass sled at speeds in excess of 85 mph.

And now that he's officially going to Vancouver for next month's Olympics, how does he feel?

"Awesome," he said.

Daly had been named to the U.S. World Cup team in mid-November, a head start on securing one of the three Olympic berths open to American sliders in the event. But his poor performances at competitions in Park City, Utah, Lake Placid, Italy and Germany got him bumped off the team in early December. Only a pep talk from coaches at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid convinced Daly to play out the season.

Whereupon he won five consecutive races, in Lake Placid and Calgary, and was named on Sunday to the No. 3 U.S. sled that will compete in Vancouver next month.

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"I was so sad - that's the best word to describe it," Daly said of losing his World Cup spot. "Sadness turned to madness and I guess that turned to determination. Basically my back was against the wall. I knew I had to win everything or my Olympic dream was over.

"Something changed. I don't know what it was. I think I just stopped caring as much."

He spoke on Monday by phone from Park City, where the other two members of the skeleton team - Eric Bernotas of Avondale, Pa., and Zach Lund of Salt Lake City - will join him for pre-Olympic training upon their return from Europe's World Cup circuit. Daly isn't entirely sure of his schedule for the next month, except that he will be marching in the Olympic opening ceremonies on Feb. 12 and will be racing on the sport's biggest stage on the 18th and 19th.

Not bad for a lad whose original sports interest was track and field. He is the middle child of Jim and Bernice Daly, a retired New York City firefighter and nurse at Smithtown's St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center. Introduced to the winter sport of luge by his middle school gym teacher, Daly dabbled in that feet-first sledding event for two years before trying skeleton.

The attraction was strong enough that, when Daly was faced with a choice of colleges, he chose SUNY Plattsburgh, where he could continue with his career as a track and field decathlete while still sliding. He described 7 a.m. weight workouts for track, followed by an early class and an hour's drive to Lake Placid to take a few runs down the skeleton course, then an afternoon track workout and night classes. With skeleton, he said, "you just do run after run, and one day you're faster at it."

He favors what are known as "pusher" tracks, which depend more on early speed built up at the push-start, as opposed to Vancouver's track, which "is technical, real technical. It's a driver's track."

He won't quibble, though. He's an Olympian.

VIDEO: Long Island Olympian John Daly