Road To The Olympic Games

Olympics Winter

Canadians tasted bitter defeat, sweet victory in skeleton

Agony and ecstasy. Victory and defeat. The highest of highs and the lowest of lows. The Olympic skeleton track had it all that Friday night when Mellisa Hollingsworth's dreams were crushed and Jon Montgomery's came true.

Agony and ecstasy. Victory and defeat. The highest of highs and the lowest of lows. The Olympic skeleton track had it all that Friday night.

This was supposed to be Mellisa Hollingsworth's time to shine. The 29-year-old from Eckville, Alta., arrived at Whistler Sliding Centre on Feb. 19 with visions of winning gold and plenty of reasons to believe she could do it.

Hollingsworth won the World Cup women's title this season. She had experience on her side, having logged much more practice time on the treacherous course than her foes from other countries. Although she'd started slowly, finishing fifth in the opening Olympic run on Thursday, the pre-race favourite jumped to third place with her second heat, gathering steam heading into the final pair of runs on Friday.

Hollingsworth put down another excellent time to move up to second spot heading into the last leg, and even though she was still more than a half-second behind leader Amy Williams of Great Britain, the Canadian looked like a lock for a medal. She could even hope for gold, if things broke just right.

They did not.

After nailing her start, Hollingsworth made an enormous mistake later in the race, twice bouncing her sled off the icy wall lining the track. In this unforgiving sport, the error cost her enough time to send her plummeting to fifth place.

For Canadians who'd expected more from Hollingsworth, the podium just didn't look right with Williams standing between a pair of Germans — Kerstin Szymkowiak, the silver medallist, and Anja Huber.

"I feel like I've let my entire country down," a tearful Hollingsworth told CTV.

Jon Montgomery picked it right back up.

'We're No. 1, baby!'

The world's fifth-ranked men's skeleton athlete went into his final run trailing World Cup champ Martins Dukurs by 0.18 seconds. Though Montgomery had chipped into the lead by posting the quickest time in Run 3, the Canadian was still the underdog, needing nothing short of "Tonya Harding and a lead pipe," (his own words) to topple the great Dukurs.

With Jeff Gillooly nowhere in sight, Montgomery simply went out and beat the top-ranked Latvian by a quarter-second in the final run, vaulting him to the gold medal over Dukurs and Alexander Tretyakov of Russia.

"We're No. 1, baby!" shouted the 30-year-old Montgomery, surely the most gregarious of Canada's 2010 Olympic champions.

You can bet no one enjoyed his victory more.

Making his way through the adoring crowd gathered at Whistler Village later, Montgomery looked like the heavyweight champion of the world, slapping hands and happily accepting a full pitcher of beer from a well-wisher.

True to his rural Russel, Man., roots and frat-boy looks, Montgomery promptly threw back his head of tousled red hair and chugged the brew, his shaggy beard sopping up any stray drops.

"After a victory like that," a still-beaming Montgomery said the next day, "it tastes all the better."