There's no question Manitoba's Jon Montgomery is on top of the world as well as our minds as Canada's latest gold medallist, but his window for parlaying success on the skeleton track into a financial windfall has already begun to close, experts say.
There's no doubt Russell-born Montgomery has become a media darling since sliding to victory Friday night in the skeleton. His most notable achievement, after winning, of course, was chugging from a pitcher of beer offered to him while television cameras documented his every step between Whistler's gondola and CTV's media centre, where he would give his first national interview.
But while he has shown unmistakable panache, personality, sense of humour and unbridled enthusiasm, he's got to get in front of potential sponsors quickly while he's hot or risk fading from the limelight before he's able to cash in.
"Endorsements are somewhat fleeting," said Grant Skinner, president of Wellington West Pro Ice. "The next 30 days are most critical. He's got to get on this right away."
Despite being a natural for the spotlight, Skinner said Montgomery -- who told the Free Press on the weekend he doesn't have an agent -- is unlikely to match the financial success of fellow Manitoban Cindy Klassen following the 2006 Olympics. After winning five medals, including one gold, she signed a more than $1-million contract with MTS Allstream, the most lucrative deal at the time for an amateur athlete in Canadian history.
The dilemma for Montgomery is multi-fold. First, his sport is not nearly as well-known or popular as speedskating, skiing or hockey. Second, with the economy in the early stages of recovery, corporate marketing budgets aren't nearly as flush as they once were. On top of that, Montgomery could easily slide to the back burner if there's a parade of Canadians to the medal podium this week.
Skinner said while the sponsorship market has improved in Canada in recent years, the Americans still leave us in the dust.
"You're on the cover of Wheaties right away and you're going to Disneyland," he said.
Jeff Swystun, chief communications officer with DDB Worldwide, a New York-based advertising and communications company, said Montgomery could be an ideal pitchman for consumer products.
"He's entertaining, articulate and, in many ways, he embodies the slippery brand that is Canada itself. He's a down-to-earth guy, he's intelligent, he's now accomplished and he's still reserved and self-deprecating. Those are all things that can be applied to Canada," he said.
An energy drink would be a good fit, Swystun said, as would -- surprise -- a beer company because he's bold and not afraid to take a stance.
"The guy is authentic and there's no pretense. There's no negative here. He's a good-time story. He's showing a work ethic, an honesty and a goal of excellence in what he does. That should appeal to a broad range of brands," he said.
Derrick Coupland, a partner at Blacksheep Strategy, a Winnipeg-based branding consultancy, believes Montgomery's corporate appeal could be national, particularly with a younger audience.
"We didn't hear a whole lot of hype about him before the Olympics. A fresh face of success on the national Olympic team is a real opportunity for the right organization," he said.
Russell's gearing up
JON Montgomery and his Olympic gold medal will be the toast of Russell on March 14.
Montgomery, who was born and raised in the western Manitoban community -- his father is a former principal of the school there and is the deputy mayor -- will be given a parade, while plans are also afoot to erect a permanent sign greeting people into the community. Organizers also promise there will be plenty of entertainment and free food during the celebration.
Even the community's home page has been updated since last week with a large photograph of Montgomery holding his helmet and cheering after he won the gold medal in the skeleton competition last Friday.
Before Montgomery, Russell's most famous son was former NHL player Theoren Fleury, who moved there when he was five and learned to play hockey there.