LAKE PLACID - The first day of the skeleton World Cup season was over and John Daly was relieved to still be in the mix.
A year after he was disqualified for not wearing his bib in the season opener at Igls, Austria, Daly was as consistent as he could be Thursday, finishing fourth in each of the first two heats of the opening race of the season as the United States placed all three of its sliders in the top 10 at Mount Van Hoevenberg.
"I'm happy. It was a great first day," said Daly, who won all four selection races in the U.S. team trials. "I wore my bib. I checked when I got to the bottom, so I didn't get DQ'd. I thought it was a bad dream (last year) and I've been waiting to make it up. I couldn't wait for this season to come around after the first race of last season."
Reigning world champion Martins Dukurs of Latvia pushes his sled Thursday on the first of three runs in the season-opening FIBT World Cup men’s skeleton competition at Mount Van Hoevenberg in Lake Placid. Also known as “Superman,” Dukurs holds a slim hundreth-of-a-second lead over Russia’s Alexander Tretiakov after two runs with one more heat remaining today.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
Daly was 1.02 seconds off the lead, while teammate Kyle Tress was seventh and Matt Antoine ninth.
The opening race of the World Cup season consists of three heats, and only the top 10 after the first two heats will compete for the gold medal on Friday.
It promised to be a three-man race.
Two-time world champion Martins Dukurs of Latvia finished the two runs down the 19-turn layout in 1 minute, 47.71 seconds. That was just 0.01 ahead of Alexander Tretiakov of Russia and only 0.06 ahead of his brother, Tomass Dukurs.
"That was not my best performance," said Martins Dukurs, who had the fastest time of the day on his first run but was just third-best on the second. "I will try to fix for tomorrow."
Reigning Olympic champion Jon Montgomery of Canada, who did not race last season, was 12th, more than 2 seconds behind.
"I wish that it was a better day," said Montgomery, who spent a good deal of the previous day repairing his bent sled. "There's got to be building blocks, one step at a time - two back, one forward."
"Essentially, it was a whole new sled, and that's tough to have any measure of consistency, and the name of the game is consistency," Montgomery said. "I can't be too disappointed in reality, but the fact is I'm hard on myself. I always want to be in the mix and I'm not in the mix. I wish that I was further ahead, but I also have to be realistic about my expectations and know that nobody gives two hoots about today. It's one year and four months (at the Winter Olympics in Sochi) that's the deal. I've got to keep my eye on the prize."
Antoine returned for the first time after undergoing surgery on his right knee during the summer. He did not compete in the selection races here and in Park City.
"I kind of had the first-run race jitters because I hadn't competed in team trials," Antoine said. "I'm kind of working out the kinks. Even this morning, I was scrambling around to make sure I've got everything. Right now, I am keeping my expectations a little bit realistic. Top 10s are my goal until the second half (of the season) when I can kind of get myself back in the mix."
Everybody has been chasing Dukurs for a long time. He won his second straight world championship gold medal last February on the U.S. team's tricky home track here, besting runner-up Frank Rommel of Germany by a whopping margin of more than 2 seconds.
It was Dukurs' 13th victory in 14 races, and though he might have slipped a bit Thursday, everybody was still trying to catch him.
"As you saw after the first run, it's kind of right where we left off last year," Antoine said.