Saturday, February 20, 2010
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Canada's Montgomery slides to gold in skeleton

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[February 20, 2010]  WHISTLER, British Columbia (AP) -- Jon Montgomery has a maple leaf and "Canada" tattooed above his heart.

Now he's got something to hang next to it.

InsuranceThe redhead with the scruffy beard and penchant for speed, won the Olympic gold medal in men's skeleton on Friday night, snatching it away from Latvia's Martins Dukurs, who had been nearly flawless during three heats, but made a critical mistake within feet of the finish.

Montgomery completed his four runs down the Whistler Sliding Center track, a course he knows so well he could probably navigate it blindfolded, in 3 minutes, 29.73 seconds - .07 seconds faster than Dukurs. Russia's Alexander Tretyakov won the bronze.

Montgomery entered the fourth heat trailing Dukurs, the World Cup champion, by .18 seconds. But on his last run, Montgomery put the pressure on the lightning-fast Latvian by laying down a blistering time of 52.36 that put him atop the leader board and sent an already-crazed home crowd over the moon.


Wearing the No. 1 bib and leading the field, Dukurs was last and as he sprinted down the start ramp.

"I was biting my nails, for sure," Montgomery said.

Dukurs began carving up the ice, on his way to Latvia's first gold medal in the Winter Olympics, when suddenly he lost his line in the final curve, a long, sweeping right known as "Thunderbird." Dukurs weaved up and down along the banked walls and when he finally came down, he brushed hard against the side, losing valuable seconds.

As he slid across the finish line, the time showed Dukurs was second. Montgomery screamed "Yes, Yes!" and pumped his fist.

"I lost my mind," he said.

Montgomery hugged and kissed his girlfriend, Darla, ripped off his helmet and wrapped himself in the red-and-white Canadian flag.

His come-from-behind win helped erase some of the host nation's disappointment after Mellisa Hollingsworth, favored to win gold in women's skeleton, finished a distant fifth.

American Zach Lund, competing in his first official Olympics after being banned in 2006, was fifth.

For these games, Montgomery decided to wear a freshly painted helmet, which had bold white strokes on a black background with a turtle on top. The 30-year-old got the idea for the sea creature after he and some teammates went on a preseason retreat with a sports psychologist, who asked them to look inside and find their own power animal.

Montgomery's was a turtle.

This guy is no tortoise, though.

And he's quick to point out it's J-O-N, not J-O-H-N.

His father, Eldon, named his son in honor of Stan Jonathan, a fire-plug NHL forward who delivered a famous beatdown on Montreal's Pierre Bouchard in the 1978 Stanley Cup final. Although he was giving up several inches and many pounds to Bouchard, Jonathan inflicted massive punishment with a flurry of rights and lefts, a pounding that still attracts lots of viewers on YouTube.

Turns out Jon Montgomery has some fight, too.

"Fantastic," said his Canadian teammate, Jeff Pain. "He deserves it. The last three weeks, he's just been sliding unconscious. Fantastic."

Like almost every Canadian kid, Montgomery was on skates not long after learning to walk. He tried all the sports - hockey, baseball, track and golf, before settling on the adrenaline-fix that is skeleton.

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"Because I couldn't make the NHL," he said with a laugh.

Now he's an Olympic champion, a title that may take him some time to embrace.

"I'm getting used to it," he said. "Sounds good. It's got a ring to it."

Dukurs was Latvia's best hope for a gold in these games. The former Soviet state has only been a member of the Olympic family since 1991 and has won two gold medals in the Summer Games - gymnastics in 2000 at Sydney and in BMX cycling at Beijing - but has so far been shutout here.

Dukurs, whose brother, Tomass, finished fourth and missed a bronze by .38 seconds, was already a hero in his homeland. From a family of sliders, he carried the Latvian flag into the opening ceremony and was about to leave Canada holding a gold medal when it slipped away.

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

Lund's first Olympics ended without a medal, but the reward was competing.

He was sent home from the Turin Games four years ago in disgrace, kicked out just hours before the cauldron was lit for testing positive for a drug called finasteride, considered a masking agent for performance-enhancing substances.

Lund had been taking Propecia, an over-the-counter hair-growth product, not realizing he was putting his sliding career in jeopardy. Tests later showed that finasteride did nothing to inhibit other drugs and was dropped from the World Anti-Doping Agency's list of banned drugs.

Lund rebounded by winning the overall World Cup championship in 2007, setting a record in Cesana, on the very track he was denied a chance to slide on.

He had been favored to win gold back then, but came to Canada with no real shot. What mattered most was that his record was as clean as his freshly shaved head.

"Satisfaction," Lund said. "I finally did it. It was a long, long hard journey. Sometimes I didn't think it was worth it. It was worth it."

[Associated Press; By TOM WITHERS]

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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