By Mark Trevelyan
ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (Reuters) - American John Daly saw the chance of an Olympic medal slip from his grasp on Saturday when his sled missed the groove at the start of his skeleton run and he cannoned wildly from side to side of the track.
The 28-year-old began the final round in fourth place, just four-hundredths of a second behind compatriot Matthew Antoine, but lost control on the initial sprint as the sled veered off to the side.
He threw himself on, but his legs splayed out to the right and the loss of balance caused him to ricochet onto the left wall and back to the right, to gasps from the crowd at the Sanki slide run.
At the end of the chaotic descent, the American was oblivious to a generous ovation from the Russian crowd, lying flat on his sled and clasping his hands to his head.
He told reporters he could not even bear to look up at his family in the crowd.
"The toughest part was, even though my family's proud, I couldn't even look at them at the bottom, which was hard for me," he said, struggling to compose himself minutes after the race. "It hasn't truly hit me yet how much I just lost."
Daly's best friend and training partner Antoine, whose run came immediately after, told reporters: "I didn't see it. When I was walking up to the line I heard all the groans. I knew something bad had happened.
""We knew after yesterday it was the two of us fighting it out for third. It was really unfortunate the way his race ended, my heart really goes out to him."
Daly finished 15th while Antoine took the bronze behind Alexander Tretiakov of Russia and Martins Dukurs of Latvia.
"This has kind of made me hungry. It's going to take a while for me to get back on a sled right now," Daly said, adding that he probably take the rest of the season off.
"I really do wish for the first time in my career I had a second chance and I didn't have to wait four more years."
(Additional reporting by Justin Palmer; Editing by Peter Rutherford)