It was a men’s skeleton final that looked a lot like the one from the 2010 Olympics.
Latvia’s Martins Dukurs, leader heading into the final run, rounds Thunderbird and heads to the finish. He’s a handful of hundredths back, and red numbers pop up as he crosses the line. The winner, watching from the finish dock after posting the heat’s fastest time, roars and pumps his fists in triumph.
Except, it wasn’t Jon Montgomery celebrating gold this time, and there was no beer stroll to follow. Instead, the Olympic champ solemnly watched the scene from a short distance away, dejected with a 12th-place finish on a track where he’d never lost before.
Saturday night (Nov. 24) might have been the first time Montgomery has been spotted without a smile on his face at the Whistler Sliding Centre. With three races in the books, Montgomery is still looking for his first top-10 finish since returning to the World Cup circuit after a year off.
"There's not a lot positive to be had from today,” said Montgomery, clearly frustrated, “but a guy will go home, watch some video, try and reflect and try and take some positives out of it, because if you dwell on the negatives, you're only going to dig a deeper hole to climb out of."
Surely, the track on which he won two World Cups and Olympic gold was supposed to be where a breakthrough came. That appeared possible when he sat eighth after one run, but a slow second session left him 1.81 seconds back of winner Frank Rommel’s combined time.
“I had good runs,” he said. “I’m not happy with the time, the runs were fine.”
Top Canadian Eric Neilson agreed, saying he thought Montgomery’s runs were “perfect,” but he couldn’t put a finger on why they weren’t fast.
“It’s tough to say,” said Neilson. “There’s a lot of things that go into getting speed coming down the track.”
It appears that more tinkering with equipment is next for Montgomery in an attempt to achieve consistency. He developed a new sled during his winter away, but it failed to produce at the season’s first two World Cup stops in the United States. He went back to his Olympic gold-winning sled for Saturday’s race without much improvement.
“The other one’s not working right now, so we’re trying to come up with some fixes, try to make it better and see how things go in Europe,” Montgomery said of his new sled, which will be parked for the next two races at Winterberg, Germany, and La Plagne, France. “When I get home at Christmas time, I’ll try to get back to work on my own.
“I have to do whatever I can to try and realize some incremental gains, because right now I’m not realizing it.”
In the meantime, Montgomery will go with the sled developed for the national team by the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology over in Europe — the same design that took Neilson to a career-best fifth and John Fairbairn to eighth on Saturday.
Montgomery’s status as an Olympic champion doesn’t seem to be deteriorating — maybe you spotted him with Rick Campanelli on Entertainment Tonight Canada, or in a new Sport Chek commercial over the past week. But having dedicated so much of his life to being fast in Whistler, this weekend’s result was a low point in Montgomery’s career.
After taking the victory Saturday, German slider Rommel said he fully expects the Manitoba native to make a return to form as he finds equipment he’s comfortable with.
“It’s not so easy to come back with a new sled from one week to another,” said Rommel. “I think he improves during the season and will be back on top.”
Of course, the end goal for Montgomery is the top of the podium in Sochi next winter. There’s no question that he has the drive to get back among the sport’s elite — one could see it beyond the disappointment in his eyes Saturday. It just may take him a little longer than he hoped to get there.
Or as Montgomery said in a Monday (Nov. 26) tweet: “Like the turtle on my lid… Slow and steady!”