CBC Sports Oral Histories: The night Jon Montgomery shared a beer with Canada

CBC Sports Oral Histories: The night Jon Montgomery shared a beer with Canada


An auctioneer-turned-Olympic skeleton champion became a Canadian icon after his sudsy celebration at Vancouver 2010

By Myles Dichter, CBC Sports
January 20, 2022
 

With a slide and a swig, Jon Montgomery became an instant Canadian icon.

The skeleton athlete from Russell, Man., won gold on home ice at Vancouver 2010. He followed it up with his infamous beer walk amongst the masses in Whistler Village, where one fan reached past an RCMP officer to hand Montgomery a pitcher.

Thus ensued the sudsy celebration – one of those spontaneous moments you’d swear was scripted.

But there was plenty beyond the brew that went into creating an Olympic champion.

Jon Montgomery walks past the students of Olympic Heights School in Calgary after he was announced to the 2010 Winter Olympic skeleton team. (Todd Korol/Reuters) Jon Montgomery walks past the students of Olympic Heights School in Calgary after he was announced to the 2010 Winter Olympic skeleton team. (Todd Korol/Reuters)
 

Jon Montgomery: I don't know that everybody had a beer the night before a race. I always did.

Nathan Cicoria, Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton high-performance director: He drove me absolutely nuts because here's a guy that was one of those individuals that just wrote his own script. He knew what his body needed, he knew what his mind needed. And he had a plan.

Montgomery: It's just sport, and it should be fun and it should be inspirational … work hard, chase your dreams and don't take any of the other stuff too seriously.

Montgomery is shown joking around prior to his first-ever run down the Whistler track. (Photo courtesy Nathan Cicoria) Montgomery is shown joking around prior to his first-ever run down the Whistler track. (Photo courtesy Nathan Cicoria)

Scott Russell, CBC Sports host: We were aware of him because he was a bit of a character, right? Jon Montgomery took up skeleton relatively late in his life when he first saw the Canada Olympic Park [COP]. He was an auctioneer that worked pretty close to the COP.

Cicoria: We'd be in these little hotels [on the World Cup tour]. And you'd hear, like, almost singing or talking or something. You're like, ‘What is that down the hall?’ It was Jon practising his auctioneering in the shower, which he did every morning.

Kelly Forbes, coach: Jon was his own guy. He didn't fall into any trap of, like, ‘you have to do this’ and ‘you have to do this to become an Olympic athlete,’ or let alone an Olympic gold medallist.

He enjoyed the [World Cup] tour and after the races were done, we would celebrate with other [athletes] from other countries.

Skeleton athletes, left to right, Jeff Pain, Mellisa Hollingsworth, and Montgomery, of Russell, Man., stop for a photo in front of the Olympic rings, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2010, at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press) Skeleton athletes, left to right, Jeff Pain, Mellisa Hollingsworth, and Montgomery, of Russell, Man., stop for a photo in front of the Olympic rings, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2010, at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)
 

Cicoria: He's very disciplined, very regimented, and if it means blowing off some steam or having a late night, that was fine. It may have seemed like it was coming off as irresponsible or a little bit off-script, but it wasn't.

Montgomery: We arrived in Vancouver to get set up just days before opening ceremonies and we began to slide with the rest of the world when official training started.

Russell: When [Georgian luger] Nodar Kumaritashvili was killed on the track in the training accident [on Feb. 12, the day of the opening ceremony], that took a lot of attention and there was a bit of a shadow cast on the track.

Candles are lit in memory of luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, who died on February 12, 2010, in a crash during a training run of the luge event of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics at Whistler Sliding Centre. (Fabrice Coffini/Getty Images) Candles are lit in memory of luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, who died on February 12, 2010, in a crash during a training run of the luge event of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics at Whistler Sliding Centre. (Fabrice Coffini/Getty Images)
 

Cicoria: The luge accident was really hard on the team. I remember having a lot of conversations with the team and our sports psych[ologist]s.

Montgomery: There was that mixed emotion of celebration met with certain amounts of trepidation on behalf of some, not myself. I wasn't worried at all about my intrinsic safety. But certainly other people internalize that, however it affected them. But, yeah, there was grief.

Minor adjustments are made to the track following the death of Kumaritashvili, but training and competition continue as planned.

Montgomery: We're having to maybe overcome a bit of a mental hurdle, seeing the kinds of times that the Germans, the Russians, the Latvians, the Americans were doing.

It was really good ice… And we're looking at these times going, ‘Oh my biscuits.’

Montgomery looks to see his time as he crosses the finish line during  men's skeleton training at the Whistler with Sliding Centre on Feb. 17, 2010. (Leon Neal/Getty Images) Montgomery looks to see his time as he crosses the finish line during men's skeleton training at the Whistler with Sliding Centre on Feb. 17, 2010. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)
 

Forbes: We actually roomed together and would sit down and talk at night about his strategy going into the races.

If he could do what he did in training, he was going to be in a very good spot, and I really felt like he could win an Olympic medal.

Cicoria: We knew the track like the back of our hand and it was really about managing distraction.

Forbes: I would skateboard down [a] hill [in Whistler village] and then he would take the electric bike and then he would pull me back up the hill with. Or, when I needed a booster, we would be around the Olympic Village and I'd be on the skateboard and he'd be pulling me all over the place.

Montgomery: That was a big part of the smile on my face was just having some fun with things like that. Opportunities to be silly, engage, be a part of the atmosphere. You're feeding on other people's energy, if you're aware of it.

The men’s skeleton competition begins on Feb. 18, 2010, six days after the opening ceremony.

Russell: [Latvia’s Martins] Dukurs was the European champion, [Russia’s Aleksandr] Tretyakov was a force because he was the World Cup leader. And here's this guy from Russell, Man., an auctioneer with a turtle on his helmet.

Montgomery competes in the first run of the men's Olympic skeleton competition  on Feb. 18, 2010. (Clive Mason/Getty Images) Montgomery competes in the first run of the men's Olympic skeleton competition on Feb. 18, 2010. (Clive Mason/Getty Images)
 

Montgomery: [The turtle was] my power animal.

I sat with it for a second and it resonated big time with me. I was terrible. I was the worst of all the new recruits. It was not a good start in the sport, and the slow and steady progression was very synergistic and emblematic of my journey.

In Olympic skeleton competition, athletes are ranked by the combined time of their four runs down the track.

Forbes: Jon's first run, he had a really good start. I think it was in the top four in terms of start time, which is really good for him. So we are quite happy with that. … We thought, ‘OK, if you can do four of those, you're going to be in a really good position.’

Cicoria: Day 1 was almost... I'm not going to call it autopilot, but we have trained for that moment for so long. I don't remember a lot of hiccups.

Montgomery: From preparation, the confidence to be able to just let go and push spilled over into the execution of my game plan.

Forbes: The ice is extremely fast, but times were extremely fast, as fast as they've ever been. And so it was very exciting. Guys were going 155 kilometers an hour.

 
 

After two runs, Montgomery sits in second place, 26-hundredths of a second behind Dukurs. The final two runs are set for the next day. Thanks to some internet sleuthing, Montgomery thinks he may have found a path to victory.

Montgomery: We almost couldn't overcome that. But you always know in your heart of hearts that anything is achievable, anything is overcome-able. And if that's not in Webster's Dictionary yet, it should be.

Forbes: We were going to bed that night and reviewed his runs and his starts. He's preparing his sled for the next two runs the next day and I said, ‘Jon, to be honest, just run that thing as far as you can.’

Montgomery: I was able to get splits that were put up [online] that gave me insight that we didn’t have. Nobody was giving me a splits chart that night. I basically stumbled upon it, did the math and found out that I got left behind in corner four.

It turned out that going in a little bit later would maybe allow me not to bleed as much energy at the beginning of that corner.

It wasn't anything that my team had available. It wasn't anything that I had special access to because the track was ours. This was born out of just the everyday material that was available to the public.

Forbes: I had a pretty good sleep because he was just even keel. Like this guy [is] in the middle of a possible Olympic medal. And we went and got dinner like we normally did. We got up the next morning and he went and got his bacon and eggs from McDonald's. I just kept it very normal, a few jokes. [We] took the skateboard and the electric bike.

Cicoria: At that point, you're not having these deep conversations, right? You're just making sure that everybody's still good with the plan.

Russell: It was all in [Montgomery’s] hands, right? And he had to come from behind to do it because Dukurs had the lead after the third run.

Canada's Jon Montgomery waves to the crowd after competing in the men's skeleton final on Feb. 19, 2010. (Leon Neal/Getty Images) Canada's Jon Montgomery waves to the crowd after competing in the men's skeleton final on Feb. 19, 2010. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Montgomery: [Dukurs] set a track record. And I'm like, ‘Are you kidding me? I’ve got to overcome a track record now?’

So I came down and I did. I set the track record by eight-hundredths of a second, and that, I know for a fact, is by that change of entrance into corner four.

Despite the track record, Montgomery still trails Dukurs by 18-hundredths of a second. The Canadian is the second-last slider, with Dukurs, as leader, in the final slot.

Forbes: We encourage him and yell at him as he explodes off the block. You couldn't hear yourself think because everyone at the start was cheering for him. I think that helped a lot. And then he just went into tunnel-vision mode.

Montgomery: I pushed as hard as I could and nearly destroyed every opportunity I had because I pushed so hard. … It [still] gives me heart palpitations every time I see my sled wiggle in that groove on that final descent. It was my fastest push of the competition by a pretty good bit.

Forbes: I was like, ‘Man, it has to be enough for a silver medal - he just got a silver medal.’ We were really happy. And we knew that there was one more slider and anything can happen in sports.

Montgomery: I was saying to myself, ‘It's got to be enough. That's gotta be enough.’ And [Dukurs] came down and he was having another smoker and made one small error, and that was the fateful error.

Cicoria: To watch Martins Dukurs come down and to see that last split was just electric because as coaches, you can kind of tell where the speed is coming and going. So, we didn't need to see the finish time to know that Martins was losing time and he was going to struggle.

But it was going to come down to hundredths, which it did. And Jon knew that too.

Montgomery celebrates winning gold with Latvia's Martins Dukurs, right, who won silver in the men's skeleton final on Feb. 19, 2010. (Leon Neal/Getty Images) Montgomery celebrates winning gold with Latvia's Martins Dukurs, right, who won silver in the men's skeleton final on Feb. 19, 2010. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)
 

Montgomery: [Dukurs’] lead now begins to tick away every split. It's coming down to 18-hundredths, down to 12-hundredths, down to eight-hundredths of a second.

Forbes: This is going to be close, but we still think that Dukurs is going to win. But then he goes in super late into the final corner and gets huge oscillations and a hard hit. And we knew it had to have been enough.

Montgomery: The final corner on the track is called Thunderbird, and I had two Thunderbirds emblazoned on both sides of my helmet and its claws are coming down and holding in front of it a Canadian Maple Leaf.

The motif and the design was done and designed by an Indigenous artist. Local legend stated that a Thunderbird lives on top of Blackcomb Mountain. And in thinking about what I'd like to do with the helmet design for those games, I wanted to honour local legend.

Forbes: [Dukurs] comes across that finish line and you see the red. And as soon as you see red, you knew Jon just won an Olympic gold medal.

Montgomery: I came out seven-hundredths of a second ahead, which is half a sled length, the blink of an eye. And I can't help but think that the slow and steady progression of my journey through the sport, indicative of a turtle on my head, and the power of the Thunderbird pulling me through, set the stage for me to overtake him in the final corner.

 

Keara Brennan, the fan who handed Montgomery the pitcher of beer: Jon's gold was a huge turning point for Whistler in those Olympics. Like suddenly the vibe was a lot better in town, from my perspective at least.

Forbes: The entire mountain erupted. It was one of the coolest things I've ever seen. It felt like the entire nation was there.

Cicoria: We're jumping up and down and hugging, high fiving. And Jon is just losing his mind because he did it.

It was like all those hours, all those days, all those miles, just all of it came out at once.

Russell: He celebrated wildly and later apologized to Martins Dukurs for celebrating that effusively after his race. But it was like the fans and the athletes came together with this huge sigh of relief and jubilation that Jon Montgomery had created this incredibly great moment for Canada on that day.

Montgomery: It was like I’d stuck my big toe in a light socket and the energy was now pumping, coursing through my body and radiating out my pumping fist.

Cicoria: The beer was an iconic moment, but him pumping his fists at the end when Martins comes down and he's won, that's Jon's medal for me.

Montgomery, shown celebrating after winning gold, says 'it was like I’d stuck my big toe in a light socket and the energy was now pumping, coursing through my body and radiating out my pumping fist.' (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press) Montgomery, shown celebrating after winning gold, says 'it was like I’d stuck my big toe in a light socket and the energy was now pumping, coursing through my body and radiating out my pumping fist.' (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)
 

Forbes: He did it his way, that's for sure. He should play Frank Sinatra because he kept his cool and was Jon Montgomery the whole time.

Brennan: We were indoors and we heard this roar. We're like, ‘What is going on? Like, what has just happened?’

Cicoria: We spent a long, long time taking photos of family and friends, and then we jumped into a truck and they took us down to anti-doping [testing].

Forbes: After the drug test, he was finally ready to go and someone said, ‘Let's get on a gondola to go down because you've got to get on CTV.’

Montgomery: I was still in my speed suit having just completed doping control, done that press conference, still had my helmet. And we began to walk to the town square, where there was the broadcast stage for CTV.

All of a sudden the camera’s in your face, [the cameraman]'s walking backwards. There's a bit of a police escort.

Cicoria: You could see the people and we’re like, ‘Holy s--t,’ where do we have to go? And so at that point, it was just like, ‘Oh man, this can be cool.’

Forbes: There's people coming from every direction and we're like, ‘Whoa, what is going on?’ And then RCMP start getting around Jon and us and there's thousands of people surrounding.

Cicoria: Jon's out in front. He's got a flag, which he had been wearing like a cape. And at that moment, you're just starstruck.

Montgomery waves the Canadian flag after winning gold. (Shaun Botterill/Getty Images) Montgomery waves the Canadian flag after winning gold. (Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
 

Brennanof discussed that he probably needed a beer. It took a long time for him to come out of the village. We’re like, ‘this guy’s probably doing media interviews, he’s probably completely over it. This guy's going to need a beer by the time he gets down.’

Cicoria: We really didn't get too far. And there was a little pub on the right side. And I remember this woman just coming out of nowhere with this jug of beer and she just thrusts it in front of myself and into Jon's hands.

Brennan: [My] brother is a photographer. So he sort of jumped up with his camera and I was sitting at the table and there’s a jug of beer in front of me like, ‘Oh, OK, here we go. This is my job.’

Montgomery: She had to reach around the police officer to give it to me as we were striding through the village.

Brennan: The cops were being really cautious around alcohol on the streets. I’d been told they'd been sniffing people's coffee cups to check that there wasn't alcohol in them, and so I definitely had this moment of ‘Uhhh, this could get interesting.’

Keara Brennan, left, meets up with Jon Montgomery, second from right, after supplying him the pitcher of beer during his now-iconic walk through Whistler village. (Photo courtesy Nathan Cicoria) Keara Brennan, left, meets up with Jon Montgomery, second from right, after supplying him the pitcher of beer during his now-iconic walk through Whistler village. (Photo courtesy Nathan Cicoria)

Montgomery: I didn't take two seconds to think about it because it was almost like Manifest Destiny.

I was like, ‘Oh, I'm thirsty. Wouldn't it be nice to grab a pint in one of these places before we go to this interview?’ And it was almost like [angel voices] in that moment. If it could have had an aura around it, it did.

Russell: Everybody starts singing 'O Canada.' He takes a swig of beer, and it's just who he was. It's a totally Canadian thing that was never planned.

Brennan: Nobody said anything. To be honest, I got the impression that the cops loved it. I think they were going with the flow of just a great moment.

Montgomery: I do remember thinking to myself, ‘You were on the verge of having this pitcher slip out your grip and looking terrible in front of at least six or seven people at the bar right now.’

Forbes: And he gives it to us as well as he keeps on walking, and I think Nathan had a swig and I'm not a big drinker and I had a swig.

Cicoria: I'm like, ‘Is this a good thing? Should he be carrying beer?’ I looked at Kelly and we just kind of shrugged and we're like, ‘You try and get it away from him, that beer is not going anywhere.’

Montgomery: You don't realize in that moment that you're connected with and in front of, two million, I believe, of my brothers and sisters that were in party mode at that point in time and I wasn't drinking alone.

I was drinking with Canada.

Montgomery  celebrates with fans at the Whistler Sliding Centre. (Mark Ralston/Getty Images) Montgomery celebrates with fans at the Whistler Sliding Centre. (Mark Ralston/Getty Images)
Montgomery is interviewed by CTV's Jennifer Hedger following his 'beer walk.' (Photo courtesy Nathan Cicoria) Montgomery is interviewed by CTV's Jennifer Hedger following his 'beer walk.' (Photo courtesy Nathan Cicoria)

Cicoria: It was the equivalent of drinking out of the Stanley Cup.

Forbes: And it was just chaos. Jon was Jon. [CTV’s Jennifer Hedger] asked him a series of questions and boom, Canada fell in love with him.

Russell: I'm sure he would tell you that [he’s] just a regular guy who [was] in the right spot at the right time to live a real Canadian dream. And that's what he was. He was all of us.

Cicoria: Kelly and I are standing on the side just talking to Canadians. We're taking photos with people. We're kind of on the side just going like, ‘This is bananas.’ Just kind of soaking up the energy and laughing.

Brennan: [My] brothers were like, ‘Oh, you have to go say hi to him.’ And we had a Canadian flag. ‘Go get him to sign the flag.’ So I went down and said, ‘Hey, can you sign this flag?’

I don't know if I even said, ‘I gave you that beer, by the way.’ I don't remember saying you owe me a pint, but I probably should have, [but] he signed the flag.

Russell: We're supposed to remain neutral as broadcasters and storytellers. But I went to the medal [plaza] that night and I was just another person in the crowd and I was singing 'O Canada,' too.

Brennan: He did that characteristic jump onto the stage. I remember watching and saying this guy has something about him and he's definitely got personality.

 
 

Russell: There was this sense of euphoria when his name was called and he ascended the top rung of the podium. And he didn't just walk up as we would normally see an athlete. He leapt up.

He took his mitt and he dusted it off first and then left both feet, raised his arms and the crowd went wild.

Montgomery is still basking in the golden glow of his victory when the final event of the 2010 Games was being contested at Canada Hockey Place in Vancouver.

Montgomery and Kelly Forbes celebrate after the 'golden goal' scored by Canada's Sidney Crosby on Feb. 28, 2010 at Canada Hockey Place. (Photo courtesy Kelly Forbes) Montgomery and Kelly Forbes celebrate after the 'golden goal' scored by Canada's Sidney Crosby on Feb. 28, 2010 at Canada Hockey Place. (Photo courtesy Kelly Forbes)

Forbes: Jon had said to me, ‘Hey, do you want to go to the gold-medal [men’s] hockey game? And I'm like, ‘Well, of course.’ I was the trainer for one of the players on that team, Dany Heatley.

Montgomery: I thought, ‘Let's go down and see if we can go chat with the boys.’

Forbes: I didn't think we would get there, to be honest. We both had credentials to get around. But I mean, [the men’s hockey gold-medal game] is the premier event.

Montgomery: All of a sudden, Wayne Gretzky walks by with Janet Gretzky and the kids, and we're freaking out. It was the second time that week that I had met him. We're trying to work up the courage to see if we can get a picture, and he's like, ‘Hey, you mind if we get a picture with you guys?’ We're like, ‘What the f--k just happened?’

From left to right, Forbes, Dany Heatley, Montgomery, and Scott Niedermayer pose for a photo after the Olympic men's hockey final in Vancouver. (Photo courtesy Kelly Forbes) From left to right, Forbes, Dany Heatley, Montgomery, and Scott Niedermayer pose for a photo after the Olympic men's hockey final in Vancouver. (Photo courtesy Kelly Forbes)

Forbes: And so we go in [the dressing room] and they see Jon and...he said something to them and they all scream. They were already into the beers.

I find Dany, finally, and he's like, ‘What the heck? How did you get in here? The only people that were allowed in here were the prime minister and Wayne Gretzky.’

Montgomery: It was the only opportunity I'd ever get to address a room full of our nation's greatest hockey players at one time. And so I said, ‘For those of you who have just earned your first Olympic gold medal -- Niedermayer, Iginla, I know this is your second. But to the rest of you…’

And I reached into my pocket and I pulled out my gold medal. I said, ‘Welcome to the f—ing club.’

Montgomery celebrates on the podium during the medal ceremony in Whistler, B.C., on Feb. 20, 2010. (Olivier Morin/Getty Images) Montgomery celebrates on the podium during the medal ceremony in Whistler, B.C., on Feb. 20, 2010. (Olivier Morin/Getty Images)

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