Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The full Monty -- gold

Pride of Russell charges to top of skeleton with furious finish

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WHISTLER, B.C. -- Strike up the band and begin mapping out the parade route back home -- Russell's Jon Montgomery has delivered a 2010 Olympic gold medal for Canada and for Manitoba.

Montgomery, the 30-year-old part-time auctioneer, full-time daredevil and proud product of the Keystone Province, blistered through the final two runs in the Olympic skeleton at the Whistler Sliding Centre to overtake Latvia's Martin Dukurs and stand atop the medal podium and give Canada its fourth gold medal, and eighth medal overall, of the XXI Winter Olympics.

"It feels.... is stupendous a word? Outrageous. Unbelievable... all those things rolled into a big ball. It's bearing down on me pretty heavy because I don't even have words to describe it," said Montgomery.

Montgomery began the day 26 hundredths of a second behind Dukurs, the reigning Federation Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Tobogganing (FIBT) champion and chipped into the Latvian's advantage in Friday's final two runs.

Montgomery posted a time of 52.20 in his third run -- breaking Dukur's track record set a night earlier -- to cut the lead to .18. And in the fourth and final heat he was timed at 52.36 while Dukurs finished in 52.61. Montgomery's four-heat total of 3:29.73 was .07 better than Dukurs at 3:29.80.

"I have no clue how this might change my life," said Montgomery. "You get beyond what's in front of your nose on a skeleton track and you're going to be ass over tea kettle and in a world of hurt. We'll worry about how this might change my life after the Olympics are over."

Dukurs, the likable 25-year-old from Riga, was trying to deliver the first-ever gold medal for his Baltic country. Rounding out the podium was Russia's Alexander Tretyakov, who finished third with a combined time of 3:30.75.

Canada's Jeff Pain, a silver medallist four years ago in Turin, was ninth with a time of 3:31.86 while teammate Michael Douglas, who began the day seventh, was disqualified.

Montgomery's medal performance perfectly caps a wonderful tale of the small-town hero who first began sliding at Tower Hill in Russell, virtually just outside his back door.

Appreciation

"I'm looking forward to getting back to Russell at the beginning of March and showing my appreciation for everything that everybody's done for me, all the well wishes that I've got and the support I've gotten from my hometown, Russell, Manitoba," he said.

Montgomery didn't officially pick up the sport until eight years ago when he first gave the skeleton a try at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary.

Working as an auctioneer in the auto industry, Montgomery could see the lights of the skeleton run from his apartment.

Visiting the park with his parents one night, he witnessed a skeleton competition and was instantly hooked.

He admittedly struggled in his first two years on the FIBT circuit, but in the third season his efforts improved significantly. He won his first World Cup race in 2008 and last year captured the first-ever Cup race at the freshly-minted track at Whistler. He also posted the fastest time in each of the six practice runs leading up to the opening of the two-day, four-heat total aggregate time event.

But there was a suspicion that Dukurs was saving something for the event and set a torrid pace from the outset, destroying the track record in his first run with a time of 52.32 and continuing that pace with times of 52.59, 52.28 and courtesy some lighting-fast starts in the run before jumping on a sled.

Interestingly, Dukurs' trademark blistering starts were better in all four runs than Montgomery with a total advantage of .36 of a second -- critical in a race this close. But Montgomery was the better rider on the course.

As Montgomery rose to prominence in the sport the folks in his home town near the Saskatchewan border rallied behind him with a 'Mission Montgomery' pep rally last summer that grew and grew in support.

His father Eldon, a former school principal who is the town's deputy mayor, raved about Russell's support prior to his son's race.

"The people there and the people that have organized those events for Jon... they've just gone way beyond anything we thought might happen," he said. "It's just amazing."

Now that Montgomery's won a medal, what's in his future?

"A pint," he said.

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 20, 2010 D3

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