Here’s the question for new Victorian Jon Montgomery: Where would his life have gone had he not grabbed that jug of beer and taken a deep draft on national television? What if, during that raucous, jubilant, post-race foot parade through the streets of Whistler Village, the Olympic victor had turned away when that woman thrust the pitcher in his path?
“I’d probably be selling cars in somebody’s showroom,” he says.
Not that the former auto auctioneer would be unhappy doing that. But he wouldn’t have been on Oprah, or auctioned off Justin Bieber’s cell number on the Juno Awards, or spoofed himself on George Stroumboulopoulos with a re-enactment that included not just a pitcher of beer, but a tequila shot, a pina colada and a dry martini. He wouldn’t have gone on Discovery Channel’s Best. Trip. Ever. adrenaline-sports show. Wouldn’t have hosted CTV’s The Amazing Race Canada. Wouldn’t have been an instant folk hero.
Montgomery has no problem acknowledging that he is better known for seizing his victory beer than for his victory itself. Not everyone remembers him competing in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. Not everyone remembers if it was in luge, or skeleton, or Krazy Karpets (it was skeleton, the one where you hurtle down an icy track head first). They might not remember his gold medal. “But a lot of people remember some guy drinking a beer in Whistler.”
It was an all-Canadian moment — except for the fact that the woman who offered him the pitcher was a British tourist.
“I am eternally grateful for my beer angel,” he says. “She certainly shaped my future.”
Montgomery, his red hair and beard a tad tamer than in 2010, is back home in Victoria from a road trip today, though the term “back home” is applied loosely. He and wife Darla Deschamps-Montgomery moved here from Calgary at the end of May. “The day that I got home from filming this season of The Amazing Race Canada, we packed up and moved.”
Both husband and wife are retired from skeleton racing and were looking for a change of pace. “We want to be around water, or on the water,” he says. They’ll have to be shown around the saltchuck by a pair of fellow Olympic gold medallists, rower Adam Kreek and triathlete Simon Whitfield, the only Victorians Montgomery knew before arriving. (“It’s a bit of a brotherhood, the Olympic family.”)
They have yet to see much of the city, having been gone for a lot of June and almost all of July so far. The past three weeks were spent in a recreational vehicle, tooling around the West on a trip that combined their personal life with a promotion for the industry group Go RVing Canada. They packed the RV with stand-up paddling boards, golf clubs, mountain bikes, frisbees, baseball mitts, every toy they had. “We’re showcasing that RVing isn’t something that’s just for snowbirds.”
It’s the sort of deal that many Olympians would like to get, but few do. Montgomery probably could have signed a lucrative endorsement deal with a beer company, too, except the law doesn’t allow anyone but the brewery owner to be a spokesman. (“Rightfully so,” Montgomery says. “We don’t need athletes or people with an elevated profile hawking booze or tobacco to young people.”)
The thing is, it wasn’t really the Whistler beer that made Montgomery famous. It was the eight years of skeleton racing, of hard work, that earned him the gold medal that put him in a position to drink the beer. And it was the lifetime of competition in a variety of sports before that. He created his own window of opportunity — and jumped through it.
Now, not every decision made on impulse ends well. Some life-changing choices change lives for the worse. (“Hold my beer and watch this. …”)
But for Montgomery, seizing the moment — and the tourist’s beer — turned out to be the right move.
“She is a lady from Britain who I’ve never met,” he says. “One day I will track her down and thank her.”