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Smithtown native hopeful for Olympic shot

John Daly begins a run at a recent

John Daly begins a run at a recent skeleton competition. Photo Credit: Handout photo

John Daly's pre-race ritual includes a jolt of Red Bull before he hurtles down an icy track on a metal sled at 80 mph with his face an inch from the surface.

So when the 24-year-old Smithtown native learned that Red Bull wasn't available at a recent "skeleton" competition, he mixed several types of soda into a syrupy concoction and chugged.

"I needed as much sugar in me as possible," he said.

It's almost impossible to believe that the polite and good-humored Daly was described by one of his coaches, Greg Sand, as a "competitor." Though, in the same breath, Sand told The Associated Press that Daly "doesn't take himself or anything else too seriously."

Daly, who is expected to qualify for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team that will compete in February in Vancouver, said skeleton is "just like the luge except headfirst."

The rider and sled together can weigh no more than 233 pounds for men. Riders steer their sleds with their shoulders and knees, and even slight movement can mean a tenth-of-a-second difference between winning and losing races. Each course is roughly a mile long and generally takes about a minute to complete.

"You're back to being 8 years old on the Radio Flyer Sled and hot chocolate waiting for you at the bottom," Daly said. "You immediately just want to go faster."

Daly did his first skeleton run at the age of 16 at the prompting of his middle school gym teacher, whose son was a luger. Daly wasn't a huge fan of the luge, but the first time he did a headfirst "skeleton" run, he was hooked.

"You realize you're picking up more and more speed," Daly said. "They [coaches] tell you how to steer, but you don't know how to do it until you've done it hundreds of times."

Training has been intense for Daly.

While attending SUNY Plattsburgh, he was not only an Olympic hopeful for skeleton but an All-American decathlete. Most of his days started at 7 a.m. with lifting and ended deep into the night, which was when he took the majority of his classes. Nevertheless, he graduated in 2007 with a degree in advertising and public relations. His schedule since graduation has been training and competing. When he's not in Lake Placid, he lives in Smithtown with his parents, brother and sister.

Daly isn't sure what the future holds for him. Barring an injury, one can compete in skeleton for a long time.

Eric Bernotas, 38, is a hopeful for the 2010 Olympic team, and Daly regards him as one of the best drivers in the sport. Final rosters won't be set until the end of January. Pending a major disaster, Daly is expected to be on Team USA. And he has his sights set on taking home a gold medal.

"I'm not going to put an expiration date on myself," Daly said. "The Olympics are a lifelong dream."

New York Sports