By Jeff Blair, The Globe and Mail Posted Sunday, February 21, 2010
WHISTLER – They are worth watching, those who walk down the road less travelled – or, in this case, slide down it at 145 klicks per hour. So keep an eye on Jon Montgomery, Canada. You never know where this gold medal of his will take him.
Friday night, it was the centre of Whistler Village, like some kind of roving street party. People spilled out of the pubs – or, more accurately, vacated their place in line – as word spread that the guy they had been watching on television was coming down the mountain.
Clutching his turtle and thunderbird First Nations motif helmet, the automobile auctioneer who grew up playing baseball with Theo Fleury’s family in Russell, Man., Montgomery stopped to guzzle beer, accept hugs and sign autographs. “Sign the stick … sign the stick … sign the stick,” a crowd yelled outside the CTV stage where he had just been interviewed, as a small hockey stick was passed up to him. Deed done.
About the only thing Montgomery didn’t do was crowd surf but that’s no surprise. Because while his wild-man antics after his exhilarating and, for Canada, desperately needed win on a track that up to then accounted for one more death than Canadian medal, there is much more to the moppy, red-haired Montgomery than simply being a dude. One of the first things he did in the post-race news conference was apologize to silver medalist Martins Dukurs of Lativa for the over-exhuberance of his celebration. It was extended good-naturedly and accepted thusly. There is much, much more to Eldon and Joan Montgomery’s kid than meets the eye.
“Sometimes you feel like you’re floundering around on the roads of Europe,” Montgomery said on Saturday, at a reception at the Whistler Brewing Company about seven hours after he’d shut down the partying in the wee hours of an alpine morning.
“That it doesn’t really matter. That what you’re doing is insignificant. But to see the pride others share in our success here … it means everything to us as athletes. A large portion of this goes to all of Canada.”
See, this is why gold looks so good on a guy who admits that the first time he saw a skeleton go down the track at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary he figured he’d just stumbled on a luge accident. Because at a time when there are those among our chattering classes who feel our inner hoser has somehow been violated by the medal-lust of Own The Podium, it is important we celebrate simple, unbridled passion. “I’m the luckiest boy in the world,” he told a TV audience after his win.
“And I don’t give a lick.”
Ah, but there is time for him to use the podium as a bully pulpit of sorts, and don’t be surprised if Montgomery does. There are weighty issues to be advocated – and as he did at a news conference before training began, Montgomery once again Saturday pushed the cause of a 24-hour amateur sports channel whose revenues might help replace funding that will be lost.
“It’s gathering a lot of dust in the CRTC,” Montgomery said, “and through our efforts at the Olympic Games, maybe we can urge Canadians to put some momentum behind this and stick in a few elbows. That would be probably the biggest benefit of this. We wouldn’t be just a flash in the pan, then.”
Montgomery aims to defend his medal in Sochi in 2014, and hopes his girlfriend Darla Deschamps, who is also part of the Canadian program, is with him. So there’s an element of selfishness to his stand. But somebody’s got to step up, no?
And who better than a guy who says competing at home didn’t mean more pressure, but more support; who knows the first thing the true king of the hill does is come down and walk among the people.
Montgomery said he came upon this sport at a time when he was looking for something to be passionate about.
“When your eyes are open and you’re receptive to new opportunities, that’s when things will find you,” he said. “When you’re sitting around at home and saying to yourself: ‘Well, if there’s something out there it will come to me,’ that’s not how it’s going to happen.
“You have to get out there. Have a little zest in life. You have to find things and seek out new challenges and push yourself – and that’s when you find something that piques your interest and makes you passionate. That’s how I found skeleton.”
Lucky for Canada, it’s how we found Jon Montgomery, too.