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The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Olympic gold medallist Jon Montgomery '99 per cent' sure he's retiring

Posted: 02/13/2014 2:02 PM | Comments: 0

Last Modified: 02/13/2014 4:37 PM

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The author of one of Canada's defining moments at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics is "99 per cent" certain he's retiring.

Jon Montgomery, the gold-medal winning skeleton racer who celebrated his victory by chugging from a pitcher of beer handed to him by a fan, says his failed attempt to qualify for the Sochi Games will in all likelihood mark the end of his sliding career.

"I'm done. As a competitive athlete, this is the end of the road for me," Montgomery said in a telephone interview with The Canadian Press on Thursday, before later adding: "I would say 99 per cent of me is certain that I am done.

"You won't see me (racing) next year or the year after and I'm 99 per cent sure you won't see me trying to gain a spot for (the 2018 Winter Olympics in) Pyeongchang."

The 34-year-old Montgomery was one of the stars of the Vancouver Games, memorably drinking from that pitcher on national television as he walked through a crowd of rabid Canadian fans in Whistler, B.C.

But the Russell, Man., native struggled to find consistency on a new sled in the leadup to Sochi and missed out on a chance to defend his title in Russia.

"Physically I'm at the top of my game. I'm going out faster than I've ever been in my career but it's a bit of a sacrifice to make sure that I don't get hurt," he said. "I don't know what sort of long-term damage I've done to my brain but in terms of getting a concussion — which is a really distinct possibility, or a brain injury — I need to make the right choices based on my family."

Montgomery said even had he made it to Sochi and topped the podium a second time, the emotions from Vancouver would have been difficult to repeat.

"Nothing can ever replace your first Olympic gold medal," he said. "To have done that on home soil with friends and family and countrymen by my side ... you just can't top that."

Although he wanted desperately to represent Canada again, Montgomery said he's been watching these Games intently.

"It's the human drama that takes place in front of us every day during the Olympics," he said. "It's unbelievable. I enjoyed being part of it as an athlete and (enjoy) being part of it as a fan."

Montgomery took the 2011-'12 season off and found it difficult racing on the new sled he helped build from scratch when he returned to the track. He had used his previous sled for eight years, but felt it was necessary to go with new technology in order to defend his Olympic gold in Sochi.

In the end, he never got that chance.

"It was really frustrating because you had achieved a certain level of performance that you were used to being able to get back to week in and week out," said Montgomery. "Consistency is a huge part in our sport. You have to be very athletic to push the sled, but it's more of a game of skill and touch.

"It's about that feel and that muscle memory, that finite muscle control, and that's what I was struggling with — to get that feel and that touch back to my sliding game."

Montgomery's path to Sochi was always going to be difficult after he failed to earn one of the three men's spots on Canada's World Cup team. He instead raced on a lower circuit where point values for results are lower, but was promoted to the World Cup team in January.

He needed at least a fourth-place finish in his final race to get a third Canadian sled into the Olympics, but wound up a heart-breaking seventh.

That disappointment aside, Montgomery is adamant he did everything possible to give himself the best chance at success.

"I can say until the day I die that there wasn't anything that we didn't address," he said. "I built a gym in my home garage with equipment that I felt was necessary for me to get quicker, bigger, faster, stronger and that paid off.

"With the equipment development end of things, unfortunately we didn't realize the goals that we had set for ourselves — we fell a little bit short.

"It was mostly timing. An opportunity to get comfortable with the equipment that we'd built was really where we fell short. But as far as making the choices and decisions we made, zero regrets."

Montgomery became somewhat of a folk hero after the 2010 Games and was in Calgary on Thursday to promote Proctor & Gamble's "Thank You, Mom" campaign for the 2014 Olympics.

He and his mother, Joan, starred in a video highlighting how she helped him through some tough times early in his career prior to the Olympic gold medal.

She played a similar role again when her son failed to qualify for Sochi.

"My mom was there to help me pick myself up and move on with some purpose and dedication towards what happens next in life," said Montgomery, who hosted the first season of CTV's "Amazing Race Canada" last year and has signed on again for a second instalment that begins shooting in the spring.

That television career will keep Montgomery in the public eye, but he will likely always be known as the Canadian Olympic champion who chugged beer with a gold medal around his neck.

"Lots of great memories, lots of good friends and a lot of pride in what we were able to accomplish for ourselves as individuals and for us as a country," he said. "I haven't given a formal (retirement) announcement.

"I haven't gone to a press conference and cried like Wayne Gretzky yet, but if that day comes I'll probably do that too."

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