Gold-medal champ hard-core Canadian

By ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency


Men's skeleton gold medal winner Jon Montgomery from Russell, Man., celebrates as he receives his medal in Whistler, B.C., on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2010. (STEPHANIE LAMY/QMI AGENCY)

WHISTLER, B.C. — He was christened Jon Riley Montgomery and like most things pertaining to Canada’s super slider, a story comes with the name.

From drinking beer out of a pitcher as he paraded the streets of Whistler in triumph late Friday night, to his intoxicating gold-medal run down Blackcomb Mountain, to his Manitoba roots, Montgomery is hard-core Canadian.

And it starts with his name, derived from a pair of tough-as-nails NHL players. The Jon comes from Stan Jonathon and Riley from Terry O’Reilly, former teammates with the big, bad Boston Bruins.

“My old man liked the way they played,” Montgomery said. “He’s a Toronto fan, but he liked that heart they had and the fight they had.”

Eldon Montomery, a history teacher back in Russell, Man. and now the father of an Olympic champion, had no way of knowing it at the time, but he picked a name that fit perfectly.

A 30-year-old so fiercely competitive and proudly Canadian that he says he would take up tiddlywinks if they put up a gold medal, Montgomery has personality to match his performance.

As the whirlwind post-victory minutes turned to hours and the skeleton slider’s story played out to a nation anxious to hear it, he quite literally became the toast of the town.

With patios overflowing on a spring-like afternoon, the party that had started the moment he crossed the finish line was destined to carry through Saturday night’s medal ceremony in the heart of a village ready to rock the night away.

“I’ve honestly been awake for most of it,” Montgomery said in an interview with Sun Media as he strolled the sunny, streets of the resort town. “It’s pretty unbelievable. With all of the adrenaline flowing, I don’t even feel tired.

“To be received like that by all those screaming fans and family is incredible. Whistler is just an awesome place. It’s just the nature of the folks who live here. They are excited and passionate about Canada and love to show it.”

With four runs down the Whistler Sliding Centre course, including the rocket-like final effort that allowed him to wrestle gold from Latvian favourite Martins Dukurs, Montgomery became an instant Canadian hero.

As a snapshot, the scene at the bottom of Blackbomb captured the essence of the man. Walking off gondola, he made the 500-yard stroll to a television studio high-fiving hundreds of delirious fans anxious to get a piece of the freshly minted Olympic champion.

“That was incredible, something I will remember for the rest of my life,” said Montgomery, who next week will be feted with a parade in Russell, a town of 1,700 hard by the Saskatchewan border.

“I believe you get out of life what you put into it. If you can find something that you are passionate about, something that makes you feel alive, you have to pursue it with everything you have.”

From his red beard, to his magnetic personality to his life path, Montgomery certainly is a colourful character. He has worked as a used-car salesman and an auctioneer - and to see him do that bit in person is priceless - before making Olympic gold his career goal.

“This is a dream that I set on July 3, 2003, the day Canada was awarded the 2010 Games,” Montgomery said. “The culmination of all that is pretty incredible.

“Some people have become doctors in the time I have chased this dream and they are saving lives. Although I’ll never do that, hopefully in competing with honour and dignity I can inspire some people.”

If you go by the philosophy that life is meant to be played as hard as it is lived, well, Montgomery excels in that regard too.

He is known to be the life of the party and to have closed a few as well, not a stretch if you saw him swilling from that pitcher Friday night, his thirst quenched in more ways than one.

“Free is my favourite price,” Montgomery said of the jug of draught that found its way out of one of Whistler’s pubs and into his hand. “And after a victory like that, it tastes all the better.”

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

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