Canada’s Montgomery wins gold in skeleton

Jon Montgomery has a maple leaf and “Canada” tattooed above

his heart.

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

The 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.

He was carving down the ice, on his way to Latvia’s first gold

medal in the Winter Olympics, when he suddenly lost his line in the

final curve, a long, sweeping right known as “Thunderbird.”

Dukurs began weaving up and down the banked walls and when he

finally came down, he brushed hard against the side, costing him

valuable seconds.

When he slid across the finish line, the time showed he was

second and Montgomery screamed with joy. He hugged and kissed his

girlfriend, Darla, ripped off his helmet and wrapped himself in the

red-and-white flag.

Zach Lund of the U.S. 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.

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.”

Lund’s first Olympics ended without a medal. For him, 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. Ironically, 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, Italy, 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, though, 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.”