Canada's Olympians shine on

WES GILBERTSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:31 AM ET

Manitoba’s Jon Montgomery hurtled head-first down an icy track at speeds of nearly 150 km/h, winning his race and leaving the Whistler Sliding Centre as an Olympic gold medallist.

Then, he did something millions of other Canadians would never have the guts to try — he walked along a crowded street sipping from a pitcher of beer.

You get the feeling Montgomery’s celebratory stroll will be one of the lasting images of Vancouver 2010. And not just for the scruffy skeleton specialist.

“I think, even for myself, what endears me to other athletes and other people is finding some common ground, and I think by the way I celebrated and I handled myself, people could really see themselves in that position and really see themselves doing that exact same thing,” Montgomery said. “They can’t necessarily see themselves doing skeleton at 146 km/h and winning a gold medal, but they can definitely see themselves being proud of a performance, embracing a beer, having fun and just being what they consider genuinely Canadian.

“Perhaps that’s what endeared me to some people in Canada, and that’s something that I’m really proud of.”

Although Montgomery had enjoyed on-track success in the past, including winning a silver medal at the world championship in 2008, he was far from a household name when he arrived in Whistler. That all changed Feb. 19, when he rocketed to stardom with his victory in the men’s skeleton event.

Even if you missed the race, you saw the aftermath. While Montgomery’s final 52.36-second scoot down the Whistler Sliding Centre track made him an Olympic gold medallist, his free-spirited celebration made him an instant icon of Vancouver 2010.

His hometown of Russell, Man., planned a parade in his honour. Heck, even Oprah called for an interview.

“It’s funny, because I think he’s about more than just the beer,” said marketing whiz Russell Reimer, who represents Montgomery and a handful of other past and present Olympians at Calgary-based Agenda Sports Marketing. “But he wasn’t afraid to have fun. He wasn’t afraid to just absolutely own the moment, and I think it had just incredible appeal with Canadians from coast to coast.

“I think Canada fell in love with him.”

Six months after his golden moment and now-infamous toast that followed, Montgomery is back to buying his own beer.

But that doesn’t mean life hasn’t changed for the 31-year-old skeleton racer and the rest of Canada’s medallists from the 2010 Winter Olympics.

In Montgomery’s own words, the aftermath has been “epic” and “crazy.”

Ski-cross queen Ashleigh McIvor describes it as “insanely busy.”

No doubt freestyle dynamo Alexandre Bilodeau, snowboarding star Maelle Ricker and figure-skating sweethearts Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are feeling the same thing.

Ditto for Kaillie Humphries, Charles Hamelin, Kristina Groves, Kevin Martin and others.

“Honestly, I rarely thought about winning the Olympics and what that would mean,” said McIvor, the B.C.-born beauty who grew up skiing at Whistler. “I didn’t quite realize what I was getting myself into, but it’s definitely been an amazing time. I’ve done lots of interesting things and met lots of interesting people. And it’s certainly opened lots of doors for me.”

Since standing atop the podium in February, McIvor has signed thousands of autographs and smiled for countless photographs. She’s travelled across Canada for speaking engagements and even posed for a pin-up calendar to raise funds for breast cancer awareness.

While she is hesitant to talk about sponsorship and endorsement deals, there’s little doubt the 26-year-old has high stock. According to her website, her current sponsors include Bell, Oakley, Cold-FX and Want energy drinks. There could be more logos on her site soon, but the former world champion and X-Games silver medallist isn’t letting on.

“It’s definitely created a lot more opportunities for me,” McIvor said. “I have people chasing me down instead of having to go out and look for sponsors.”

Montgomery has Reimer and his team to field those calls, although nobody is showing up at Agenda Sports Marketing with a blank cheque.

In fact, Montgomery has signed just one sponsorship deal since standing atop the podium in Whistler, inking an agreement with Brett-Young seed company. (Hey, you need barley to brew beer, right?)

While he’s not necessarily earning big dough as a commercial pitchman or cereal-box cover boy, Montgomery has booked a long list of speaking engagements, pocketing enough pay to help him realize another dream.

After a hectic spring and summer, he’ll schedule just one appearance per week in September. Come October, the World Cup skeleton circuit is his top — make that, his only — priority.

“The best perk would be an opportunity for me to capitalize on the success that we realized in Whistler — just to be able to be full-time athlete guy and have sport be my livelihood,” Montgomery said. “That’s something that I’d only ever dreamed of. I never knew that it could potentially be possible.

“Especially in an amateur sport like skeleton racing where the profile is so limited, the viability of being a full-time athlete, it’s not there for most people. If you get lucky, like I did, and you have an opportunity to realize your best performance on home soil in front of a home crowd ... then perhaps you can consider yourself lucky to make skeleton you’re full-time gig.

“I’ve been able to do that.”


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