Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Slider's death won't sway Montgomery

Shocked by tragedy, but skeleton athlete feels track is safe

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VANCOUVER -- It's a tight-knit fraternity of daredevils and thrill-seekers who are used to the scrapes, bruises and broken bones that come with being a luge, bobsleigh or skeleton athlete.

And so when a tragedy like Friday's death of Georgian luge athlete Nodar Kumaritashvili occurs, the first reaction of all the sliding competitors -- including Russell's Jon Montgomery -- is of shock and horror.

And the second reaction is to liken it to a death in the family.

"My heart bleeds for his family. It's a horrible accident. You never expect this but we all know the risks of competing in extreme sports and sliding sports are just that... extreme," said Montgomery in an email to The Free Press Friday afternoon from Whistler before he headed to Vancouver for the opening ceremonies at B.C. Place. "My thoughts are with his family in this trying time."

Now while is may sound cold or callous, it's also in every athlete's DNA to push on after a tragedy like this and focus on what's directly in front of them -- an opportunity to compete on the biggest stage in their sports: the Olympics. And Montgomery, who has been chasing his Olympic dream for the better part of eight years, is no different.

"This will change nothing for me in how I approach my training and races next week," he said in the email. "I feel that the track is very safe for myself and all my fellow competitors."

The Whistler Sliding Centre track where Friday's tragedy occurred is the same venue for the bobsleigh and skeleton, Montgomery's sport. It's not certain what officials will do to make the run safer or how Kumaritashvili's death may affect the schedule of events.

Montgomery isn't scheduled to compete until next Thursday and Friday in four heats running over two days but has been practising at the same venue.

Many sliding athletes had already been openly critical of the track's safety and its speed -- it's already known as one of the fastest in the world -- in training runs prior to what unfolded there on Friday and Kumaritashvili's crash was one of several on the day.

But Montgomery speaks from experience when he vouches for the run. He won the first World Cup event on the track just over a year ago.

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 13, 2010 D3

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