The man who gave Canada golden and memorable moments at the 2010 Winter Olympics will not recreate them in Sochi, Russia, next month.
Olympic men’s skeleton champion Jon Montgomery has fallen short of qualifying for Canada’s 2014 Olympic team.
The 34-year-old slider from Russell, Man., finished seventh at a World Cup in Igls, Austria, on the weekend.
But Montgomery needed fourth or better to both qualify a third Canadian men’s sled for Sochi and be the man aboard it.
Montgomery’s gold medal at the Whistler Sliding Centre and his subsequent auctioning off of a pitcher of beer in the village square four years ago made him a folk hero in Canada.
But Montgomery has struggled mightily to bond with the sled he built from scratch when he took the 2011-12 season off from racing.
He didn’t generate enough top-six results in World Cup racing over the last season and a half, nor enough points in the last few weeks of racing to book a trip to Sochi.
“There really wasn’t a turning point,” Canadian team head coach Duff Gibson told The Canadian Press on Monday in Calgary. “He just couldn’t get that sled going.”
Canada owned two Olympic berths for each gender when Calgary’s John Fairbairn, Eric Neilson of Kelowna, B.C., Calgary’s Sarah Reid and Mellisa Hollingsworth of Eckville, Alta., were named to the team in December.
But Canada was among the top countries in the sport still racing to qualify third sleds for their men’s and women’s teams. Saturday’s World Cup in Igls, Austria, was the last opportunity to do so.
The U.S., Germany and Russia each earned the third entry in men’s skeleton, while Germany and Russia each picked up a third sled for the women’s event.
“The countries that get a third spot is based totally on the ranking of the third athlete,” Gibson explained.
The difference between Montgomery and the third Russian qualifier, Nikita Tregybov, was 24 points.
Montgomery was en route to Canada from Europe and didn’t immediately return a phone message left by The Canadian Press on Monday.
Neilson posted the required four top-six World Cup results over the last season and a half to qualify for Sochi.
Fairbairn is the country’s top-ranked male this season and won a bronze medal earlier this month in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
Had Canada qualified a third sled for the Olympics, the berth would have gone to the third Canadian male in the international rankings.
Montgomery was ranked third ahead of Dave Greszczyszyn of Burlington, Ont., who raced the first half of the season on the World Cup.
Montgomery faced an uphill climb to Sochi back in October when he wasn’t fast enough at trials to earn one of the three men’s spots on Canada’s World Cup team.
He instead raced the Intercontinental Cup circuit where point values for results are not as high as on the World Cup.
After finishing third and fifth at two IC races in Whistler early in January, Montgomery was promoted to World Cups.
But Montgomery crashed and finished last in the first of two races in St. Moritz. He was 18th in the second race there. So he needed his best result since 2010 in Igls to be an Olympian again.
“Almost every race he participated in this year, if he had done what he could do if he’s gelling with his sled, it would have been enough,” Gibson said.
The first World Cup after the 2010 Olympics was in Whistler and Montgomery won there. But he didn’t finish on the podium again that season.
Unwilling to race on a sled model that got him wins on just one track in the world, and bent on defending his title in Sochi, Montgomery worked with the metal construction company Standen’s on a new sled.
“The sled that I’ve got right now is better than the sled I used to be on,” Montgomery told The Canadian Press in December. “There’s no question. The only unfortunate part, and the reason why I was so successful in 2010, was because that old sled was like an extension of my body.
“When I was competing in 2010 in Vancouver, that sled I’d been on for eight years. I knew exactly how it would react to every single situation I was presented with. I’m not there with my Standen sled. I haven’t had the time to get comfortable with it yet.”
Montgomery ran out of time to get comfortable for Sochi.
“Jon tried to develop something new,” Gibson said. “He tried to be innovative and it was different enough that it took a whole new learning curve.
“He just didn’t get it dialled in in time.”