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Smithtown's Daly reveling in Olympic experience

Being there, Smithtown's John Daly assured by e-mail, is "something special." Daly was an All-American track and field decathlete at SUNY Plattsburgh and has spent the past couple of years traveling the world as a professional in the winter sport of skeleton. But the view from atop Mount Olympus is different.

"It feels like more than another World Cup [event]," Daly said. "It's something special, and it's the people here, the TVs and the area that make it feel that way."

Daly, 24, on Monday joined 27 other athletes from 17 nations in the first training runs for the skeleton competition, which will begin Thursday evening in Whistler, a prime mountain venue of the Vancouver Olympics. He is housed in an athletes' village near the sliding center, rooming with U.S. skeleton teammate Zach Lund of Salt Lake City.

"The whole bobsled and skeleton team is staying on the same floor," Daly said. "You can do anything in the village. Food is top-notch, all video games and TV are available, massages and physical therapy.

"The village is amazing. A great atmosphere of excitement and competitiveness and just energy. You can feel it in the air that something amazing is here."

Though many athletes typically skip the drawn-out Opening Ceremonies to conserve energy for their competitions, Smith had decided - the moment he was named to the U.S. Olympic team in mid-January - "I'm walking" in the parade of nations. "Even if our competition had been the next day . . . "

Over the weekend, he acknowledged that the decision to participate was worth it. "The things that surprised me were how big the stadium was and how loud it was when USA walked in," he said.

For the first time in Olympic history, for either the Summer or Winter Games, the Opening Ceremonies were staged indoors, at the home of the B.C. Lions, the Vancouver-based Canadian Football League team. It rained during the show, but "the thing that stood out," Daly said, "was waiting down in the tunnel to walk in. Everyone was sweating because of the three layers [of winterized team apparel supplied by the U.S. team] we had on, and it being inside, it was so hot.

"But when I saw the flag waving and the lights on us as they announced 'United States of America,' I got chills. And I will never forget the feeling of walking into Opening Ceremonies for the rest of my life.

"The actual ceremony was amazing with the show they put on, and the singing was the best I've ever heard. The highlight, though, was when Wayne Gretzky lit the torch. When that torch was lit, I felt the Olympic Games had started, and as corny as it sounds, I felt the Olympic flame in myself, and was just overwhelmed at this experience."

All those uplifting senses were felt Friday night, of course, hours after the terrible news that Nodar Kumaritashvili, a 21-year-old luger from the Republic of Georgia, had died in a training-run crash on the same track that will be used for skeleton and bobsled competition.

"Yes, there has been talk of the slider," Daly said by e-mail. "It makes you remember that these are extreme sports, and we start to forget that, because we become very comfortable at speeds close to 90 miles per hour. It's not his fault, it's not anyone's fault. It was a freak, horrible accident.

"I know that I'm ready for the track, though, and it hasn't shaken me up. But it did make me sad that a fellow athlete has passed away."

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