Tony Care - Friday Oct. 18, 2013 10:32 ET

Jon Montgomery not taking Olympic qualifying for granted

2010 skeleton champion focused on path to Sochi

2010 Olympic skeleton gold medallist Jon Montgomery won’t have an easy path toward Sochi. (Lars Baron/Getty Images)

The last time the world got a glimpse of Canadian skeleton star Jon Montgomery at the Olympics, the Russell, Man., native was seen walking through the streets of Vancouver singing the national anthem and chugging a pitcher of beer following his electric gold-medal performance.

Since then, the charismatic Montgomery has gained a certain level of celebrity, with appearances on Oprah and as host of The Amazing Race Canada.

TV fame aside, Montgomery’s sole motivation these days is qualifying for the Sochi Olympics in February — period.

Success on the track has been scarce since his slide to glory four years ago. His only podium finish after Vancouver came at the 2011 world championship, where he earned in a bronze in the mixed team event in Konigssee, Germany.

This has left the 34-year-old with a delicate path toward Sochi.

It begins in late October as Canadian Olympic hopefuls will race in two selection events — one in Calgary on Saturday and the other in Whistler, B.C., on Sunday, Oct. 27.

The top three men will move on to the World Cup circuit. Montgomery would then need three top-six World Cup finishes to qualify for the Winter Games in February. Teammate Eric Neilson, meanwhile, only requires one.

“Of course you can't take anything for granted,” said Montgomery bluntly. “The moment you think you've got it made, the moment you think you can't learn or grow anymore, is the same moment in time that you will do exactly that: stop progressing.

“There are a number of men banging at the door for their chance to step up and take their game to the next level and they all want the coveted three spots for the Olympic team, and are working their asses off to get it. If I don't take qualifying as seriously as the rest of the team, I promise you I will not be amongst the faces you see at the opening ceremony in Sochi.”

Yet despite some obstacles, Canadian skeleton coach Duff Gibson isn’t too concerned with the difficult road facing his veteran slider. “The odds are pretty good that’s going to happen,” said Gibson, the 2006 Olympic skeleton champion, of Montgomery’s prospects for Sochi.

Gibson also points out that even if Montgomery or Neilson doesn’t qualify during the World Cup season, they could still be sent to represent Canada in Sochi. Gibson could still add them to the team as he is allowed a coach’s discretion to select the three men. 

Defending gold unrealistic?

It’s not just making the team that Montgomery needs to contend with.When he won the gold medal in Vancouver, Latvian slider Martins Dukurs and Russian Alexander Tretyakov finished with silver and bronze, respectively.

But Montgomery has struggled to find his form during the last four years, while Dukurs and Tretyakov have flourished. Dukers won two world championships and four straight World Cup overall titles. 

Tretyakov is the current world champion and will have the added advantage of racing on his home track.Montgomery will also get a stiff challenge from his teammate Neilson, who finished fourth at last February’s world championship in St. Moritz, Switzerland, along with Russian bronze medallist Sergei Chudinov.

“The reality is that the playing field in the world is pretty tough right now on the men’s side,” said Gibson. “A lot of people are saying it’s really a race for the bronze medal. Anything can happen, but odds wise, that’s what we’re looking at.”

However, there still remains plenty work ahead for Montgomery before Sochi arrives.

“I’m focusing on that next step, the short-term things,” said Montgomery said. “I’m really not trying to get ahead of myself and think about end results.“When I’m standing at that start line in Sochi, I’ll have no doubt that I’ve done the work, that I’ve put in the time and energy, and I can just be in that moment.”

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