Jeff Passan:

Neate Sager

Montgomery is Canada's man of the Games

Fourth-Place Medal

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Just as Jon Montgomery savored the country's most famous pitcher of beer Friday night, Canadians are savoring Montgomery's gold medal.

Sometimes there's a man for his time and place.

Montgomery is Canada's hero of the Games. It's as clear as those blue eyes of his, full of truth and fun. He just radiates that Pride of the Prairies – the boy next door from Russell, Manitoba, made of the strong stuff that lets you hit the ground running on a February morning when it's 20 below zero outside.

Canada needs more Olympic heroes like Jon Montgomery. We've been used to bland athletes who take on a thousand-yard stare when they're interviewed – athletes who are (understandably) so wrapped up in an objective that they don't realize how much people want to share in the joy.

That makes Montgomery a one-man counterpoint to the myth that Canadians are a dour lot.

A lot of thirsty-for-triumph Canadians gathered in bars Friday night, perhaps to an unhealthy extent: The Canadian Press reported that the police saw "too many incidents" of public drunkenness and disorder, particularly after Montgomery's victory.

The thirst isn't quenched, especially with zero medals Saturday.

No one could have known how much Montgomery would return the embrace. Most Olympic athletes are kind of abstractions – just names in the sports briefs – until their events begin.

First, he won in dramatic fashion, setting off the 4.6 million or so Canadians who were watching. He seem totally attuned to the fact that one could pass through 10,000 lifetimes and never be the toast of a country.

Drink the beer a fan handed to him as he walked to the interview stage? Sure. It's not like he was going back down the skeleton course in Whistler. Show off his well-honed vocal chops by auctioning off a pitcher of suds in front of a roaring crowd? It was a Super Happy Fun Slide moment: Maybe I shouldn't, but when am I going to be here again?

Canadians seemed ready for a guy like that to sweep them off their feet. The Olympics aren't supposed to do that anymore. The superstars come prepackaged. Even an unprecedented run such as Michael Phelps' eight gold medals in Beijing two years ago takes on air of anticlimax. Well, he was supposed to do it.

Montgomery was given a chance of winning skeleton. Some experts had him winning, others had him placing second. But it's skeleton, where sure gold medals go poof with one mistake, as Martins Dukurs will forever attest.

So he felt like an improbable winner, but one who was ready for the close-up, ready to jump onto the podium and call it Canada's medal. True, part of it was timing. The first Canadian gold, Alexandre Bilodeau's in moguls, came after 10 p.m. ET on a Sunday. Snowboarder Maelle Ricker and speedskater Christine Nesbitt won on weekday afternoons.

Then Montgomery came along, seeming like a guy you would party with, right as the country was ready to get into an Olympic party mood. For a country that has come to dread athletes who let the big moment play them, he played it perfectly.

There will be other Canadian gold medalists before these Games end. It says here the redheaded guy from Russell, who endearingly apologized for celebrating his rival's error, will be the one who generates the most memory burn, as did Liz Manley in '88 or Greg Joy in '76. A little different when it's a gold, though.

Montgomery was right on time. This is an urban nation, but like any it's defined and sustained by its illusions. Seeing Montgomery win and thank people back home in Russell – idyllic prairie town of collective imagination – hit the spot. Just like that beer you drink after the job's done.

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