His romp through Whistler Village after winning a gold medal skeleton will forever be etched in Canadian sports lore.
After a thrilling victory on the track, Jon Montgomery strolled through the crowd, grabbed a pitcher of beer from a fan and took a swig. A truly Canadian moment of joy that helped bolster the spirit of a nation at a key point in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.
Earlier this month, Montgomery was in Nelson putting together the stepping stones of what he hopes will be another great skeleton moment at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia.
“There were five people who knew who I was… my wife, my mother, my father and my two sisters,” Montgomery chuckled when asked to reflect on the night he lifted Canada onto his shoulders. “So to go from five to five million in the course of an evening was a stroke of luck to be honest with you. Just the manner in which my event unfolded, the dramatic conclusion, it being Friday night, Canada’s hopes were waning at that point where we hadn’t quite realized the success we were hoping for. People were really looking for something to rally around… all those things led to having a great outcome for myself.
“I was in an incredibly fortunate position, but those happenstance occurrences don’t happen for everybody. We consider ourselves fortunate and we are riding this wave and taking advantage of this opportunity to play full time athletes. Myself and [wife] Darla plan on getting it done in 2014.”
Montgomery was in Nelson to train with local physiotherapist Damien Moroney. Montgomery and his wife Darla Deschamps Montgomery — who is also a Canadian skeleton athlete — actually spent a total of three weeks in Nelson over the summer training with Moroney, who they met through the local’s work with other Canadian bobsled and skeleton athletes.
“Damien without question is the best at this stuff and so if you want to be the best you have to train with the best,” Montgomery told the Nelson Star.
“With our training regime we have realized there are potentially some deficiencies with the manners in which we move and the way that we train. Addressing those things three years out from the Games is much better than doing it the season of and expecting there to be results.”
Moroney has carved out a niche in the world of professional and amateur sport to the point where his methods have become sought after. A physiotherapist for 19 years, Moroney also has his strength and training certification which allows him to fill in some of the grey areas not covered by specific professionals the high level athletes employ.
“It’s the ability to look at athletes that are both coming back from injury, have recurrent based injuries, but still need to do performance planning and performance based work with objectives,” Moroney said.
“I look at how we can identify movement strategies in the background to make them more efficient, to make them more resilient, to make them less likely to break down. Ideally enhance their ability to perform on the track or on the field.”
Moroney’s stable of athletes he works is substantial. Through the B2ten program — a privately funded organization that contributes to amateur sport — Moroney has assisted athletes in bobsled, moguls, skier cross, cross country, ski jumping and track & field. He also works with Red Bull Canada to help develop X Games athletes, has worked with professional golfer Davis Love III, consulted with the Montreal Canadiens and also helped Cirque du Soleil.
THE SPOTLIGHT DIMS
After his spirited victory in February 2010, Montgomery found himself a media darling. The Russell, Manitoba native’s gregarious and humble nature was infectious. His red beard and pride was unforgettable.
Yet 20 months later, he was able to wander the streets of Nelson with very few people even recognizing him.
“There are definitely aspects of our lives that have improved as a result of the 2010 phenomenon that we experienced,” Montgomery explained. “I think the single greatest thing that came out of the 2010 Games for athletes in Canada is people’s awareness and pride in what happened there. I know there is a real desire for people to connect with the winter athletes and the amateur sports scene, unfortunately there is just not an easy way to do it in this country.”
The Vancouver Games helped lift the status of winter athletes to the highest level it has ever seen, but that momentum has not been sustained.
It’s nothing new in Canada. Athletes who are given very little financial resources are expected to hoist the flag high during big events like the Olympics, but between Games people tend to forget about them.
In Europe there are 24-hour television stations dedicated to amateur sport and overall media coverage is intense. In Canada there is a proposal for a similar television network, but it sits gathering dust on a shelf.
“All these fringe sports that we call them in Canada get undo attention in Europe,” said Montgomery. “These athletes are the big stars… the downhill skiers in Austria are the Sidney Crosby’s of the scene. I’m not griping or feeling sorry for myself because I enjoy a little anonymity. But it doesn’t make it easy for people to become vested in you as an athlete if they don’t get to watch you day-in and day-out perform.”
Over the years Moroney has had a front row seat to just how hard amateur athletes in this country work with very little support and attention.
“I don’t think people have a sense for how hard and what the commitment is,” says Moroney, who works out of Kokanee Physiotherapy in Nelson when he is not traveling the world. “To make small gains in performance — which is what’s required in order to be competing with the world’s elite — the amount of work it takes to gain one-tenth of a second on a start is phenomenal.
“People see it at the Olympics, but that is the end of a quadrennial… four years in the planning. And the thing is, they don’t all make it. I know some of the ones who have worked incredibly hard and not made it for various reasons. I admire the work they put in and the dedication they put into it. I’m proud to be a piece of that puzzle.”
The challenges Canadian athletes face is not going to get any easier. Canada had its best performance ever at the Vancouver Games and there is going to be expectations for more of the same in Russia in 2014.
Montgomery said that’s going to be difficult.
“You can’t be the best athlete when you have to worry about putting food in your mouth and putting a roof over your head,” he said.
Like so many who have visited for the first time, Montgomery bonded with the Nelson area this summer.
“We love the city… it’s amazing here,” he said. “We have never been here before, but we have been talking about how we can figure out a way to come back and spend more time here next summer. Nelson is the type of place that speaks to us as far as pace of life and the environment.”
The Montgomerys have returned to their base in Calgary in preparation for the upcoming skeleton season. They will now use the techniques learned from Moroney during the winter and into the future.
“He was always around and we were never quite sure why, but now we are finding out,” said Montgomery thinking back to the last two seasons where Moroney worked with the Canadian bobsled athletes. “He will be a big part of our training program leading up to 2014 I can promise you that.”
“You have a real gem in him [Moroney]. We would like to come back here and maybe become more a part of the community. So if folks know we’re around then we would love to stop and talk with them.”