The man we’ll now forever know as Monty charged down the corridor of ice at the top of the Whistler Sliding Centre track and hopped on that speeding bullet with all the economy and aplomb of a gunslinger drawing his pistol.
Jon Montgomery, the second-to-last to race in the men’s fourth heat—to be followed by front-runner, Latvian Martins Dukurs—got off to a half-second lead over his nearest competitor, Russian racer Alexander Tretyakov.
Then, flying down the ice, Monty started spinning his magic, stretching the yeast of that .5 lead into .6, then .7 until, slipping into home, he stood to wait for the final time.
When the 1.06 he now held over Tretyakov popped up on the screen, the Canadians in the crowd went mad. Montgomery had secured the silver, that was for sure, but what would Dukurs do?
The Latvian, 25 and the skeleton man to beat, started off strong, maintaining a lead of a quarter of a second or so.
Then he hit a wall—what he would later call his “black corner”—oozing ever so sluggishly out of the seventh turn. As the crowd watched Dukurs lead bleed away, the Latvian sped late into the ninth corner.
Standing by a huddle of Canadian reporters as Dukurs slipped through a massive band of white on the jumbotron above, Jeff Pain, the 39-year-old vet who’d finished his final Olympics in ninth place, gasped: “He’s got the gold!” he said of his teammate.
For Pain, who lost the top spot on the podium in Turino to fellow Canadian Duff Gibson, picking up silver, and who will now retire, this was a bittersweet occasion. Teammate Michael Douglas had earlier that night been disqualified, over the trifle of failing to remove the sheaths from his runners. And Mellisa Hollingsworth, favoured to medal in the women’s, had clunked in at fifth.
Now, with Dukurs race over, the final pronouncement: on screens around the sliding centre, a +.o7 slipped into view.
Watching 30-year-old Montgomery—a prairie kid from southwest Manitoba going against the grain of geography by throwing himself into the steep dives and wicked turns of skeleton—recognize his golden moment, Pain had come to the end of the line.
What next? “Who knows? Ballroom dancing? Curling? Something,” said Pain.
And what next for Montgomery, a used car salesman and auctioneer with a maple leaf tattooed over his heart?
“I’ve got doping, then I hope a beer, then tomorrow’s a blank slate. It’s a good unknown. I’ll take it any day.”
So will we.