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Jon Montgomery takes it one race at a time

Skeleton racer back on the track this Friday



The Resort Municipality of Whistler hosted a pancake breakfast and fundraiser for members of the Canadian bobsleigh and skeleton teams on Saturday, inviting members of the community to come out and meet the athletes and maybe get something autographed.

It sounds civilized, but the place was practically mobbed. And the people weren't there for the pancakes.

In the middle of the largest crowd was Jon Montgomery, who gave Canada one of its most memorable Olympic moments last February after he won the gold medal, then strolled through the crowd at the base of the gondola with a pitcher of beer that a girl who worked at one of his favourite Whistler hangouts gave to him. He then proceeded to give a humbling and humorous interview to the crew at CTV, wrapping it up with a display of his auctioneering skills he picked up in his day job selling used cars.

On Friday, during the second day of the skeleton World Cup, all eyes will be on Montgomery. But the 31-year-old from Russell, Manitoba is taking it one turn at a time. It's the first race of the season, and in a four-year commitment to represent Canada again at the 2014 Games in Sochi.

And whatever happens, there will be a pitcher of beer waiting for him in the village.

"I don't feel any more pressure (as the Olympic champion)," he said. "I'm still the same schmuck I was before and during and after the Games. Your last race is your last race, and it doesn't put any stock in what you do the next time out - and this is my next time out.  I'm worrying about now, and not what happened in February. That was last week."

As well as not looking back, Montgomery has also learned not to look too far forward, either.

"You're only concentrating on this week's track. If you start thinking about what you're going to do at Igls and St. Moritz and Altenberg and Winterberg and Cesana, then you're getting ahead of yourself," he said. "Our sport is incredibly cerebral and you have to be very much in the moment. If you get even a corner ahead of yourself on a track you're going to be in a world of hurt because you're probably going to be smashing a wall pretty soon."

Montgomery hasn't been doing much smashing at the Whistler Sliding Centre, although he says some other athletes have been taking some hard bumps and crashes during training. He says all the competitors are pushing hard and he expects a tough fight on Friday.

"It's going to be a hard fought battle to repeat February, and a hard fought battle to get on that podium," he said.

But while the sport can be extremely physical, from the 10 metre-sprint up top to the routine bumps, Montgomery says it's the mental game that's the most tiring.

"I think what people don't realize is the incredible mental stress," he said. "I can do two runs in a day, not even pushing it out of the blocks, and be absolutely wiped out by seven at night. And you say to yourself, 'I hardly did anything today, I only did two runs,' but staying absolutely, 100 per cent dialed in and focused for those 60 seconds is so draining on the body. It's taken me years to realize why I'm so pooped after a day of sliding, but it's the mental fatigue - it's hard to fathom, but it's absolutely true."

With Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton athletes contributing four of Canada's medals in the last Winter Games - including two gold medals - funding for the organization has actually increased from Own the Podium. As well, all of the team's core sponsors have signed on for the next few years.

Montgomery says he is gratified by that support, and by the fact that Canadians are starting to recognize the sliding sports.

"From a media aspect I think there's been a heightened awareness, but certainly a noticeable influx of interest has come from the Canadian public," he said. "Folks in Canada know more now about what sliding is all about, they witnessed it on TV, and I think we're going to have a larger following this winter - and more media coverage because people are curious what we're up to. I'm looking forward to it."

The women's skeleton team competes from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. today (Thursday, Nov. 25) followed by men's two-man bobsleigh. Montgomery and the men's skeleton team compete on Friday, Nov. 26 from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., followed by women's bobsleigh.

Tickets are available at the Whistler Visitor Information Centre.



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