LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- Michael Douglas remembers his Olympic moment as if it happened yesterday -- and probably always will.
On the second and final day of competition in men's skeleton at the Winter Olympics last February, Douglas and Canadian teammate Jon Montgomery were poised to give the host country something to cheer about.
After two of four runs down their intimidating home track at Whistler, Montgomery was a solid second behind Martins Dukurs of Latvia and Douglas was seventh -- a scant 12-hundredths of a second behind third-place slider Alexander Tretyakov of Russia.
Medals were within their grasp.
"Having never been to an Olympics, I can't even describe what was going through my mind," Douglas said. "I was so focused and ready because I thought I could make up that ground. We just missed one little thing."
The agony and the ecstasy that sports provide then happened in the blink of an eye, leaving Montgomery beaming with a gold medal hanging from his neck and Douglas sulking in the background after being disqualified.
"The overall feeling at that point was despair," Douglas said. "The focus was to slide well, do everything that I needed to do. My sled was there three hours early, but we were still focused on doing the pieces, and one of the pieces just got overlooked."
The overlooked piece? His runner guards were left on too long. Sleds have to be placed in a guarded holding area no later than 45 minutes before a competition begins to prevent last-minute setup alterations if the weather suddenly changes. The guards have to be removed because they keep the runners warm, and warm runners cut through the ice more easily, giving a slider an unfair advantage.
Douglas left his sled in the holding pen as usual but neglected to take off the guards, perhaps distracted by the women's race that was unfolding. He was dating teammate Amy Gough, and she was struggling.
Two minutes later, Douglas realized his mistake, returned, and removed the runners.
While Britain's Amy Williams won the women's gold wearing a controversial helmet that had prompted protests by both American and Canadian officials -- they claimed the helmet gave her an illegal aerodynamic advantage -- Douglas was left to wonder what might have been. Williams had never won a top-flight skeleton race before and produced the performance of her life, winning by the huge margin of a third of a second.
"There's rules to follow and rules that have to be enforced," veteran U.S slider Eric Bernotas said. "There are certain things that don't make a difference. That kind of situation when they're standing there watching the clock and watching his runner guards, they'll remind the guy.
"I think they (Olympic race officials) were making a statement. They decided that they couldn't necessarily enforce something that they should have with Amy's helmet. You want to talk about an advantage -- that's the advantage. So shame on them."
The disappointment was palpable. An X-ray technician in a trauma ward at a Calgary hospital, Douglas, 39, had to share the sad moment with family members and friends who had come to cheer for him and their country.
"It was such a sad day. Terrible," Gough said. "It was devastating for the team, especially for me. I had gone and got drug-tested and came back up to the hill and somebody said to me, 'Mike's been disqualified.' And I said, 'Oh, don't play games. That's not funny right now.' They were like, 'We're not joking."'
Douglas struggled with his fate for months.
"I talked to him about it. You don't want to end on that note," Bernotas said. "I'm sure he would have liked for that race to go well and be finished and retire on that. You can't end like that. Man, finishing sixth in Turin (in 2006), that weighed on me for months."
At midsummer, Douglas decided to slide again -- even though he turns 40 in March.
"It's such an emotional thing for me to come back," Douglas said last month after finishing 11th in a World Cup race at Lake Placid. "I didn't want to at first. After Whistler, there was kind of a collapse. I had to exhale. I needed to find new motivation."
He'd found it before. Lured to the sport at age 30, the former soccer star made the World Cup circuit in 2007, then failed to qualify for the following season. Undaunted, he worked harder, focusing on the mental challenges of sliding headfirst down a chute of ice at speeds well over 80 mph, and made it on the World Cup team for the 2009-10 season, then secured the third and final spot on the Canadian Olympic team.
"When you get knocked back off your horse, you get back up on, right," Douglas asked. "I had to live by those words. Otherwise, they're just words. I wasn't going to let someone else dictate how this story ends. It's not the notoriety that I'd prefer."
Finishing 13th in each of the first three races of the 2010-11 World Cup season and sitting 13th in the standings heading to the second half of the season hasn't deterred Douglas.
The smile is still there -- and probably always will be.
"It's good to be back," he said. "Now I find myself a little bit goal-less. Sliding outside the top 10 is a new motivation for me. Let's start moving up. I've slid OK, but I feel like I could be a top-10 guy, and once you're in there, then anything can happen.
"When it comes down to it, I'd like to give the world championships a chance and not get disqualified."
The world championships are in Konigssee, Germany in February, so he's on the clock.
"I'm really glad that he chose to come back. I think it shows a lot of character," Gough said. "He just didn't want to give up that way or have his career end not on his terms. He's doing good now. He has a good mindset."