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Thrill of victory, agony of defeat for Canadians skeleton racers

Jon Montgomery first Canadian to win a medal in Whistler



Canada tasted the sweet thrill of victory along with the bitter pill of defeat Friday in back to back skeleton races that saw the first Canadian medal of the 2010 Games won in Whistler.

Like the track itself, Friday night's men's and women's skeleton finals in the chilly evening air under a clear night sky were a roller coaster ride of emotions for Canadians.

In the end there was one gold medal, one disqualified racer and a teary athlete who was expected to win a medal but missed it in the last heat.

"It's outrageous, unbelievable - all those things rolled into a big ball," said Canada's fourth gold medal winner of the Games, Jon Montgomery. "It's bearing down on me pretty heavy because I don't even have words to describe it."

In his nail-biting fourth and final run, Montgomery's speed got faster and faster as he flew face-first down the track. He posted a combined four-run time of 3:29.73, putting him in the top spot with one racer to go. The crowd was on its feet, holding its breath in collective anticipation as Martins Dukurs of Latvia, the frontrunner, launched down the track.

From the start he appeared to be in the lead, but that lead began inching away as he sped toward the finish line.

And then he hit the last curve, Thunderbird, what Dukurs later described as his "black curve."

"All training, I was fighting with this curve," he said. "I was losing a 10 th (of a second) every time."

His time of 3:29:80 brought him a silver medal and secured the gold for Montgomery. Alexander Tretyakov of Russia took bronze.

"I didn't feel as though it was beyond my capabilities and out of reach and so perhaps that's what helped me keep it in perspective and stay calm about it all," said Montgomery of his victory.

His elation, fuelled by a manic crowd, was obvious, as he jumped with both feet onto the top podium spot, threw his hands out wide in the air and accepted his flowers.

It was just what the crowd was looking for after watching Canada's Melissa Hollingsworth come so close but missing a medal less than an hour earlier in the women's final.

Heading into her last run, Hollingsworth was sitting second with every chance of making it to the top.

But early on in her final run things just didn't go her way.

The agony of her defeat was obvious when she realized at the finish she had missed a medal and was in fourth place with one runner still to go.

"That's when the tears started because obviously I knew I had the potential," she said, speaking to the media through her tears. "I wasn't trying to hang on to a silver medal. Half a second, I don't think, is anything on this track. As you can see, I just lost by half a second."

She explained that as she came out of the sixth corner she hit the wall and it caused some oscillations in turn seven and that's when the problems really happened.

Hollingsworth's mistakes clinched a victory for Amy Williams from Great Britain, who was last to race. Williams' run ultimately put the Canadian in fifth spot.

"Amy! Amy! Amy!" chanted half-naked British fans, desperate to see their country secure their first gold medal of these Games.

She did not disappoint. Germany's Kerstin Szymkowiak won silver and Anja Huber, also of Germany, took the bronze.

After her run, and before heading to doping control and before even having a chance to hug her parents who had flown over from England, Williams was asked if she had any idea how her life had just changed.

"I've not got a clue," she laughed. "I'll find out when I wake up!"

Williams also had a famous fan cheering her and the other British and Canadian athletes on from the press area.

Sir Richard Branson, who was in Whistler for one night, applauded as Williams raced to gold.

"I thought I'd come and lend my support," said the billionaire adventurer.

"I think the Games are great, despite what the British press say," he said. "I'm speaking as hard as I can to support Canada because I think it's done a great job and it's lovely to be here.

"I've been to a lot of Winter Games and I think this is one of the best I've ever been to."

Some of that criticism has included the Own the Podium program that poured money into sport to help Canadians win medals in 2010.

Hollingsworth dismissed the obvious question: is there too much pressure on Canadians to bring home the hardware?

"No, it's not pressure," said the Alberta native. "I was ready. It's just one mistake and one mistake like that can happen in a World Cup, a selection race, a training run. It just happened to happen in the Olympic Games.

"You're in a sport that measures in hundredths of a second. There's just really no room for error."

Like the error too that caught out Canadian Mike Douglas who was disqualified from the men's competition for removing his runner blade covers too late. Three minutes too late.

According to skeleton's rules, all runners for sleds have to be exposed to the air 45 minutes before competition.

"My good buddy and close friend and teammate Mike had a heart-wrenching day with his DQ at the start and my heart bleeds for him and his family," said Montgomery.

But he had to put that upset and Hollingsworth's finish out of his mind and focus on his own task at hand - bringing home gold.

"When you get to the line you're not thinking about anything but first of all the start and then the next inch in front of your nose as you go down the track," he said. You get beyond that, is when you get into trouble."

Friday night's drama, said Canada's assistant chef de mission Steve Podborski, was what got the crowd in motion.

"There's more Canadian flags up there and hoarse voices than I've seen in many a long year!" said Podborski, who was there to support Canada's athletes.

"It's really what makes sport so compelling," he said of Friday's competition.

"You know, for us it's a wonderful, joyful moment (to watch Montgomery win gold)."

But then there's the agony of Hollingsworth's day, he added.

"Here you have a bad moment, and your soul is right there.

"It can be very painful but it's pure."

Whistler's Jim Charters was at the event and was later walking through the village waving his big Canadian flag.

"What a wonderful thing. It's great to have something happen up here in Whistler," he said,

"Great for the community, great for Canada and good for him."