Montgomery wins gold in Olympic skeleton

Canada's Jon Montgomery celebrates winning a gold medal in the men's skeleton competition at the Whistler Sliding Centre at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games in Whistler, B.C., Friday, Feb. 19, 2010. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

WHISTLER, - Jon Montgomery became the toast of Canadian skeleton Friday night, driving the ride of his life to come from behind, defeat the Purple Terminator and win gold at the Vancouver Games.

"Yes! Yes!! YESSSSSSSS!!!!" Montgomery shouted, pumping his fist as Latvian rival Martin Dukurs inexplicably faded in the final run through the punishing, high-speed turns on the lower run of the Whistler Sliding Centre course, bumping into walls to drift over the finish line and fall short.

"We're No. 1, baby!!" yelled Montgomery.

Seconds earlier the 30-year-old auctioneer from Russell, Man., had been blowing kisses, high-fiving and hand-slapping hundreds of flag-waving, cheering red-faced Canuck partisans when he came off his run and slammed joyously into the foam barrier at the high point of the outrun.

The scruffy-bearded redhead with the surfer dude charm and roguish crooked smile finished the four runs in a combined time of three minutes 29.73 seconds at a top speed of 145.7 km/h.

Dukurs finished just seven one-hundredths back.

"I'm a little disappointed with the last run, but not disappointed about the result. When I came here I thought top three would be great," said Dukurs.

Russian Alexander Tretyakov, 15th at the 2006 Games in Turin, won a distant bronze, finishing more than a second behind.

Dukurs, a 25-year-old track rat from Sigulda where his dad runs the only sliding course, dominated the World Cup circuit this season. He'd won half the races and missed the podium just once.

Dressed in a sliding suit in his county's purple, Dukurs ran near perfect lines, sliding on the sled on his stomach like a stiletto blade, clean through the centre of the track. He won the first heat and seemed invincible. Even Montgomery said short of going after Dukurs with "Tonya Harding and a lead pipe," he was invincible.

But in the last three runs, Montgomery was first, on the track where he won the Olympic test event last February.

With each race, he chipped away at the lead, until the final run, where he just had to find 18-hundredths of a second to take over.

Whoosh, his sled carved through the serpentine 16 turns, a red-and-white blur through The Wedge, Shivers, 50-50 and finally the sweeping 270-degree arc dubbed Thunderbird, where 5 Gs of pressure push on the body like a piano, through the finish line and up the outrun and victory.

"I was biting my nails for sure," said Montgomery, recalling watching Dukurs come down for the final run.

"I started to realize there was a possibility that I could win this race on his exit into Corner 7. Those (interval) numbers got lower and lower until he was in the plus side and I lost my mind."

It was Canada's second consecutive gold medal in the sport. Calgary's Duff Gibson won gold for Canada in Turin in 2006 and then retired. Jeff Pain of Calgary won silver in Turin.

Now 39, Pain was sliding in his last Olympics in Vancouver before retiring. A pioneer in the sport and a greybeard with the Canadian squad, Pain was sixth in Salt Lake City in 2002.

He reinjured a torn oblique muscle in his first run and struggled with the drive lines the rest of the way.

"My last run was a really great run. I pushed as hard as I could given my physical condition," he said. "I had my best push of the four heats, my best run of the four heats. Not the result I wanted but a great run anyway. "

He said he could see Montgomery coming, like an unstoppable freight train.

"The last three weeks he's been just unconscious. He's been sliding so great. He's got a lot of higher places to go."

Canada's third slider — Mike Douglas of Kleinburg, Ont. — had a strong start and a heartbreaking end.

The 38-year-old X-ray technician was running seventh after two heats but was disqualified in the third when he didn't get his sled to officials in time for the mandated post-race check.

He was three minutes late getting the warmers off his sled runners and his Olympics were over. He wasn't made available to reporters.

The win eased the sting of defeat for the women's team earlier Friday. Mellisa Hollingsworth of Eckville, Alta., the overwhelming gold medal favourite, hit the wall and bounced down the course in her final run to finish fifth. The 29-year-old broke down in tears on the finish dock.

As for Montgomery, his parents Eldon and Joan have some work to do.

They named him Jonathan Riley Montgomery when he was born on May 6, 1979. They named him after Boston Bruins tough guys Stan Jonathan and Terry O'Reilly.

Eldon was a school teacher, taught Jon the value of citizenship. When Quebec was voting on separation in 1995, Jon flew to Montreal to fly the Maple Leaf. Over his heart there is a Maple Leaf tattoo.

They watched him grow up, go to auctioneering school and were with him eight years ago when he saw sliders go down on their stomachs at Canada Olympic Park and went to find out how he could join.

At home on their fridge is a picture of a young jaunty John, pointing at the Olympic rings at Canada Olympic Park, a visual statement that some day, some day, he'd go to The Show.

Over the years, the picture stayed there, and became a talisman, a good luck charm.

It's time to get a new picture.