Jon Montgomery’s 2010 Olympic victory still carries weight with national team coaches.
Cassie Hawrysh and Jon Montgomery have the chance to settle it on the track this week, but their Olympic fates will most likely be decided in the boardroom next week.
Westman’s two Olympic skeleton hopefuls will race today and tomorrow on the Intercontinental Cup tour in Altenberg, Germany in their last chance to impress the brain trust of Bobsleigh-Skeleton Canada before the Olympic team is named on Wednesday.
Hawrysh headed overseas this week after posting 10th- and 11th-place finishes on the top World Cup tour before being sent down to swap places with former Olympic medallist Mellisa Hollingsworth, who was promoted from the Intercontinental Cup tour for a last chance to automatically qualify for the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
Despite some impressive credentials, it’s possible that both Westmanites could miss the Olympics, even though Hawrysh is ranked ninth in in the world, while Montgomery is the defending Olympic gold medallist.
Hawrysh, a 29-year-old Brandonite, could still clinch her spot in Sochi if she pulls off a miracle on ice, so to speak, by winning gold in back-to-back races in Germany this week. Combined with her two fourth-place finishes on the World Cup tour last year, that would automatically qualify her for the Olympics. Short of that, Hawrysh needs to race well this week, hopefully making the medal podium, to solidify her case for the Canadian coaches to choose her over impressive 22-year-old rookie Robynne Thompson, who remains on the top World Cup tour this week in Lake Placid, N.Y.
Canada is expected to send three women to the Olympics, with Sarah Reid already qualified and Hollingsworth the favourite to clinch the second spot by earning one more sixth-place finish on the World Cup tour this week, or simply based on her past performances.
That leaves the Canadian coaches to decide between Hawrysh and Thompson. Thompson has the slight edge at this point, with her eighth- and 10th-place finishes on the World Cup tour trumping Hawrysh’s.
While this week’s race results could settle the debate, Canadian head coach Duff Gibson said the coaching staff will likely wind up deciding the final spot based on three major criteria — how they are training and placing this year, their past performances, and which one the coaches feel has the better chance to do well on the Sochi track in February.
"If you wanted me to lay odds, I would say it’s pretty even," Gibson said via telephone this week. "I have no idea, because it will literally come down to how well each of them does this weekend. …
"If Robynne does poorly and Cassie is in the medals, then I, and I can only speak for myself, … to me that would be a situation in which a strong argument could be made that Cassie should be selected."
For his part, Montgomery — the pride of Russell — is in a similarly slippery situation.
His fate will likely come down to whether or not the Canadian coaches believe he can recapture the magic of his golden moment in Vancouver in 2010.
Canada’s top two men’s sliders, Eric Neilson and John Fairbairn, are tied for seventh in the world rankings, with Neilson’s four top-six finishes in the past two years earning him his trip in Sochi. While Fairbairn hasn’t yet clinched his spot, he is the favourite to be the second Canadian selected, based on his current ranking and five top-10 finishes on the World Cup tour in the past two seasons.
That leaves the last men’s spot down to 34-year-old defending Olympic champion Montgomery and Dave Greszczyszyn, also 34, who has out-performed the Russell rocket with a sixth-place finish on the World Cup this year and nine straight top-six Intercontinental Cup tour finishes last year. Greszczyszyn is currently ranked 14th in the world, while Montgomery is 33rd, largely due to the fact that Greszczyszyn earns more points racing on the World Cup tour than are available on the Intercontinental Cup tour.
But with neither having met the criteria to automatically qualify for Sochi, Monty’s medal moment in the last Olympics could still factor into the coaches’ call next week.
"He’s in the mix and it’s very similar to Cassie and Robynne in that we have, in my opinion, two very strong men in John Fairbairn and Eric Neilson and then who is the third one is up in the air," Gibson said. "In terms of what’s going to happen, it could go either way ... Hypothetically, looking into my crystal ball, if Jon won medals in his last two IC races this weekend, it would probably be Jon ... He obviously can handle the pressure of the Olympics and has performed well in that environment and won’t crack when others will. And that’s a factor."
By Wednesday, we’ll know whether it was enough to send him to Sochi.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 13, 2013