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Pyeongchang

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Huntington Station luge competitor Matt Mortinson, on top, competes with teammate Jayson Terdiman in the Winterberg, Germany November 2017. Photo from USA Luge

By Daniel Dunaief

Sixth place after the first run wasn’t going to cut it. Huntington Station’s Matthew Mortensen and his partner Jayson Terdiman had flown all the way to Pyeongchang, South Korea to bring home Olympic hardware.

Mortensen, who is in the World Class Athlete Program for the United States military, has spent years preparing for this opportunity.

The tandem was ranked fifth after the World Cup season, which brings the top athletes in the sport together for competitions around the world. They knew they had the talent to compete on the world’s biggest stage, and they had an enormous time gap, at least in the high-speed world of luge, to make up to put themselves in position for a medal.

Mortensen asked Terdiman, “Hey, do you want to go for it?” Without hesitation, his teammate agreed.

Before their next run, Mortensen sacrificed control for speed, reducing the margin for error on the final race for a medal.

“I’d rather be on my face than not try to get a medal at the Olympics,” Mortensen said.

“I’d rather be on my face than not try to get a medal at the Olympics.”

— Matt Mortensen

The second ride was better than the first, until they reached turn 13. Tapping the wall was enough to set them back. They finished that race in 13th and ended the doubles competition in 10th.

Changing the sled was “risky, but they were there to compete for a medal and not just compete,” Bill Tavares, the head coach of USA Luge, said in an email.

The Olympics were not over for the luge team, however, as they had one more competition a few days later, when they joined Chris Mazdzer, who had won a silver medal in the singles competition and Summer Britcher, a singles rider for the women, in the relay.

Team USA had every reason to be optimistic, as it had finished second in a similar relay in a World Cup competition in Germany last year.

When all the teams finished, the Americans came in fourth, a mere one tenth of a second behind the Austria team, which claimed the bronze.

“Fourth place was frustrating,” Mortensen said. The team had “an opportunity to get a medal, and didn’t.”

Tavares explained the fourth-place finish was “hard for all us to take.” The team knew it not only had a chance to win a medal, but win a gold one.

Fourth place became an unfortunate pattern for the Americans in South Korea, as Team USA didn’t make it to the medal stands often as the collection of determined athletes had expected in the first week of competition.

Apart from his events, however, Mortensen has ridden some of the same emotions as his countrymen back home.

He watched with concern as teammate Emily Sweeney crashed.

Huntington Station luge competitor Matt Mortinson, on right, with teammate Jayson Terdiman. Photo from USA Luge

“For us, it was a major relief when we saw her stand up and move around,” Mortensen said.

Mortensen was also inspired by snowboarder Shaun White, who returned from an Olympic misfire at Sochi to come through with a gold medal on his final run in the half pipe competition. White was moved to tears after collecting his third gold medal.

“That type of emotion and energy embodies the Olympic spirit,” Mortensen said.

The Huntington Station athlete was also impressed by the gold medal performances of 17-year old Chloe Kim, who won her half pipe competition, and Jamie Anderson, who claimed gold in women’s slopestyle snowboarding.

This is 32-year old Mortensen’s second Olympic appearence. He came in 14th at Sochi with a different partner, Preston Griffall.

Mortensen said the overall experience is the same, with considerable positive energy at both locations.

Mortensen’s parents Jerry and Mary flew across the world to support their son and the team.

Mortensen’s coach was pleased with his effort.

“He came to compete and left nothing out there,” Tavares said.

Mortensen also has dedicated fans back home.

“We are so very proud of [Mortensen] for his incredible passion, talent and perseverance competing for many years on the world’s stage, including the Olympic games,” said Eileen Knauer, a senior vice president and chief operating officer at Huntington YMCA. Knauer has worked with Mortensen’s mother Mary at the YMCA for more than a quarter of a century.

Mortensen has six brothers and sisters.

“We are so very proud of [Mortensen] for his incredible passion, talent and perseverance competing for many years on the world’s stage, including the Olympic games.”

— Eileen Knauer

“The Mortensen family is the epitome of what the YMCA represents; youth development, healthy living and social responsibility,” Knauer said.

In the longer term, Mortensen isn’t sure what will come next in his life. His time in the world class athlete’s program ends in June and he has to decide whether to continue.

In the meantime, he and his girlfriend of the last two years, Alex Duma, who is a chiropractor in New York City, plan to vacation to Hawaii in March.

Duma, who is a former Romanian National Champion and All-American swimmer, relates to the life of a driven athlete.

“I understand him really well,” Duma said. “I understand his lifestyle, which is why this works, because I’m 100 percent on board.”

Duma said she also knows the frustration her boyfriend felt after all the years of training to compete in the Olympics.

She tries to be “as encouraging and supportive” as she can, she said. She believes time can help provide some perspective.

While the 2018 results didn’t meet Mortensen’s expectations, “it doesn’t change who he is or his character,” Duma added.

As a member of the 1156 Engineer Company in Kingston, New York, Mortensen is a “folk hero” to the members of his unit, said Lieutenant William Hayes, who is his commanding officer. “He’s one of our own,” he said. “It’s always exciting to hear his stories.”

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Smithtown native John Daly, on left, with fellow Team USA members at the opening ceremony of the 2018 Olympics in Pyeonchang. Photo by Kendall Wesenberg

By Daniel Dunaief

The third time proved that Smithtown’s John Daly could pick himself up, dust off and start all over again.

An Olympic skeleton racer, Daly had walked away from the sport he loved after a crushing ending to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. Daly had been within striking distance of a coveted medal before the fourth and final race. That’s when his sled popped out of the groove at the starting line, sending him back from fourth place to 15th.

Distraught over the mistake, Daly retired from the sport, got a job and moved on with his life.

John Daly, competing in a different race, finished 16th and the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. File photo

Or so he thought. The red-haired kid, as some of his friends described him years ago, returned to skeleton two years ago, despite a job with medical technology company Smith & Nephew that required him to drive nine hours from Virginia to Lake Placid to train.

Over the last two years, he has fought to make it onto his third Olympic team, a feat he accomplished in January.

Daly joined his longtime friend and teammate Matt Antoine, representing the United States at Pyeongchang.

They went head to head against a talented South Korean slider named Yung Sung-bin, who was competing on his home track. The local South Korean hero won gold in convincing fashion, while Antoine and Daly finished 11th and 16th, respectively.

Despite the finish Daly was pleased that the final chapter in his Olympic experience didn’t end at Sochi.

“I got to do four runs, lift my head up at the end, hold it high, walk off the line and wave to my family,” he said, according to the Associated Press. “That’s something I didn’t get four years ago.”

“I got to do four runs, lift my head up at the end, hold it high, walk off the line and wave to my family.”

— John Daly

Indeed, his parents Bennarda and James Daly, who trekked to Vancouver to cheer him on in 2010 and journeyed to Sochi in 2014, also supported their son in person in Pyeongchang.

“It was fun to see him happy,” his mother said. “He had a good time.”

Realistically, she said her son recognized that the odds were stacked against him in South Korea, in part because he hadn’t spent the previous four years preparing for this event, the way his competitors had.

“He was content with the way he slid,” she said. He had a couple of hits to the wall, which rob sliders, as skeleton racers are called, of critical speed. Still, he “ended on a good note and that made us all feel good.”

Daly said her son believed he had run away and hid after the Sochi games, as though he had done something wrong. He realized that wasn’t the right way to handle the mistake at the top of the Russian track.

“He came back to get closure for that race,” she said.

James Daly felt this was the best of the three Olympic games, because his son was glowing.

“He came and did what he wanted to do, and he didn’t get hurt,” Daly said of his son. “It’s all about the experience.”

“It was fun to see him happy. He had a good time.”

— Bennarda Daly

Bennarda Daly not only enjoyed watching her son rewrite his Olympic script, but she also had the chance to spend quality time with him and with her husband.

They attended speed skating events, where the Daly team cheered for fellow Americans.

The family walked around the Olympic village with outfits that have the letters USA on them, and although concerned that people might be hostile, especially in light of the ongoing tension in Asia, the atmosphere was high-spirited.

“Everyone was polite and kind” Bennarda Daly said. The hosts “went out of their way to make everyone feel comfortable.”

She was also especially pleased that her son was able to enjoy the final chapter of a long Olympic ride.

“Just to see John enjoy the village as a spectator, to go and see other people he’d met along the way and became friends with and to go to things with him was really good,” she said.

As for Daly’s skeleton future, Bennarda Daly believes her 32-year old son is truly done.

“He feels he’s gotten what he needed,” she said. “He seemed fulfilled.”

Looking back on the Olympic and athletic experiences, James Daly appreciated the journey his son took, and the places the family visited as a result.

John Daly, competing in a previous race, returned to the track after retiring from skeleton racing following the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. File photo

“If it wasn’t for John, we wouldn’t have done the traveling we did,” the elder Daly said.

Daly witnessed firsthand how hard his son had to work to attend competitions.

A racing official for the sport of skeleton, James Daly enjoyed the contact he had with competitors and their families.

“You meet people from all over the country and the world,” he said. “It’s been a great experience. Each country sends their best.”

The elder Daly suggested that families angling to make future games need to recognize the roller coaster ride along the way.

“It’s not all glory,” he said. “You have to prepare yourself for the best and the worst. You could think of every kind of scenario that could happen, and then something else would happen.”

While the family traveled far and wide to frigid mountains, Daly said the bone-chilling cold disappeared each time his son hit the track.

“When he gets up there, there’s no more cold,” he said. “It’s just fun. That’s what you came for. You realize, if he could do that and get through that, he can get through anything.”

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