The man who gave the host country one of its most memorable moments of the 2010 Winter Olympics faces long odds to compete at the next Winter Games.
Jon Montgomery’s gold medal in skeleton at the Whistler Sliding Centre and his subsequent auctioning off of a pitcher of beer in the village square elevated him to folk-hero status.
But the 34-year-old from Russell, Man., might not make the 2014 team for Sochi, Russia, in February.
Montgomery’s results the last season and a half have yet to meet Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton’s qualification criteria.
He needs to hit the ball out of the park and also have little luck in the four races he has left to qualify before Jan. 19.
“Unfortunately for me, I’m fighting an uphill battle in that regard,” Montgomery said Wednesday in Calgary. “I would guess the way things have gone it would be nothing short of winning the four races before that deadline.”
Mellisa Hollingsworth of Eckville, Alta., Calgary’s Sarah Reid and John Fairbairn and Eric Neilson of Kelowna, B.C., were introduced Wednesday as Canada’s skeleton athletes for Sochi.
Canada can qualify a third man and a third woman for Sochi in January, according to head coach Duff Gibson.
Should Canada gain those berths, Montgomery is up against Dave Greszczyszyn of Burlington, Ont., for the final spot on the men’s team. It will come down to points earned in races.
Greszczyszyn is currently ranked 23rd in the world and Montgomery 25th with 32 points separating them.
Montgomery didn’t qualify in fall selection races for the World Cup team. He’s competing on the secondary Intercontinental Cup circuit where results are worth fewer points than World Cup results.
Greszczyszyn will continue to race World Cups.
“Dave will be earning twice as many points for his results on World Cup than I will be on IC,” Montgomery said. “If I win all four races and Dave gets 13th in his races he’ll beat me out in points.”
If the two men end up close or tied in points, it could come down to coach’s discretion, which Gibson doesn’t relish. The 2006 Olympic champion hopes the sliders sort it out themselves so he can avoid that painful decision.
“By delaying our third selection until we know there is a third Canadian spot allows them to separate themselves based on performance, rather than us having to make a subjective choice,” Gibson said.
Montgomery will race twice in Whistler, B.C., on the track of his Olympic triumph before a pair of races in Park City, Utah, in January.
“I’m always optimistic,” he said. “I’ll work until the cows come home for any kind of a chance. I’m not going to worry about the race results before they happen.
“I’m going to be worried about the next run, the next inch, the next corner. If I get ahead of that, I’m not focused on what’s important, which is the things I can control right now.
“I won’t be defined by my failures and this is hardly a failure yet.”
Montgomery has yet to bond with the sled he built from scratch when he took the 2011-12 season off from racing.
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 that got him wins on just one track in the world and looking ahead to Sochi, Montgomery worked with the metal construction company Standen’s on a new sled.
The move hasn’t translated into success on the track. Montgomery needed four top-six results in World Cups the last season and a half to automatically qualify for Sochi.
He was sixth once in 2012-13 and was at a major disadvantage this season not qualifying for the World Cup.
Montgomery doesn’t regret the season he took off or the move to a new sled.
He’s sure there would be no chance of beating Latvian skeleton superstar Martin Dukars or Russian slider Alexander Tretiakov, who are co-favourites for gold in Sochi, if he didn’t make the change.
“The sled that I’ve got right now is better than the sled I used to be on,” Montgomery said. “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.”
And it’s not a simple matter of going back to his former sled, he says. Montgomery hasn’t been on it for three years and his body would have to re-learn it. There isn’t time for equipment tinkering now.
Montgomery says he was the fastest Canadian on the Sochi track during an international training week in the fall.
“I was the fastest Canadian athlete by a good bit, but that’s neither here nor there,” he said. “It’s disappointing for me not to be given the benefit of the doubt of that leadership, that past performance proof that I’m maybe the best person for the job, but I’m in this situation by my own doing.
“I can’t blame anybody. If you’re expecting to be given consideration based on past performance, you’re kidding yourself.”
Montgomery took the risks he did because he wanted another Olympic medal.
“I was searching for that special thing I knew I would have to do to be a medallist this go around,” Montgomery explained. “I’ve got no interest in becoming a two-time Olympian. My interest was always I wanted to do everything in my power to go there and defend my Olympic gold medal, our Olympic gold medal.
“I’ve got zero regrets. I know I created the bed I’m sleeping in, but I’m only disappointed. Disappointed is fleeting. Regret is lasting.”