The road to Russia just got a lot tougher, but Brandon’s Cassie Hawrysh and Russell’s Jon Montgomery aren’t about to give up on their Olympic dreams.
On Wednesday, the Canadian Olympic Committee unveiled the first four athletes to make the national skeleton team, but could still send one more male and one more female slider to Sochi, Russia for the 2014 Winter Games. While they were disappointed to not be among the first selections yesterday, both Hawrysh and Montgomery are determined to do all they can to earn those last two spots before the Jan. 19 deadline to finalize the Olympic team.
"I’m not done fighting," Hawrysh said from Calgary, where the national team is based. "Where my mind is is just these next four races and essentially doing everything I can between now and then to earn that third spot for myself."
While the first four skeleton spots were decided yesterday — Sarah Reid and former Olympic medallist Mellisa Hollingsworth on the women’s side and John Fairbairn and Eric Neilson on the men’s — Hawrysh and Montgomery were busy beginning a pre-Christmas training camp at Calgary’s Olympic Park as they prepared for four final races on the Intercontinental Cup tour in January that will ultimately decide their Olympic fates.
"I’ve got a chance, albeit a very small one based on the point structure … to make the Olympic team, but I’ve got a chance and I am going to keep plugging away until I don’t have one," Montgomery said.
In addition to Reid and Hollingsworth, the Canadian coaching staff kept struggling rookie Robynne Thompson, 22, on the top-tier World Cup tour for January’s races overseas instead of promoting Hawrysh, despite Thompson posting disappointing 16th- and 18th-place finishes in her last two races. For her part, Hawrysh, 29, placed ninth and sixth on the second-tier I.C. Cup tour in her last two events.
Canada is currently in position to qualify a third female slider for Sochi, however holding onto that spot will require strong finishes from either Thompson — currently ranked 16th in the world — or Hawrysh — now ranked 20th — to send one of them to Sochi. The plus for Hawrysh is she will race on a pair of North American tracks that she is very familiar with at Whistler, B.C., and Park City, Utah.
"Certainly that is my goal is to be on the podium for all four of those races and the thought process behind some of that is because I am familiar with both the Whistler and the Park City tracks, that should be a good situation for me and certainly I am excited to go back to those tracks," said Hawrysh, a graduate of Neelin High School whose next race is scheduled for Jan. 5 in Whistler. "It’s nothing new for me and I just have to do what needs to be done and just race. In terms of how that decision will go, your guess is as good as mine as to what they will do in terms of the final decision. So all I can do is race to the best of my ability and hope that at this point I’ve actually shown enough in their eyes to be named to that third spot."
Meanwhile, Montgomery, the 2010 Olympic gold medallist, had hoped that he would have been promoted to the top World Cup tour for January after posting a pair of sixth-place finishes on the I.C. Cup circuit, while Dave Greszczyszyn struggled to 20th- and 26th-place performances as Canada’s third World Cup men’s slider.
"It was a little bit disappointing for sure that I didn’t get benefit of the doubt to move up to the World Cup," said Montgomery, a 34-year-old graduate of Russell’s Major Pratt high school who is ranked 25th in the world while Greszczyszyn is 23rd.
"It’s definitely much easier (to qualify for the Olympics) from the World Cup (than the I.C. Cup). It’s disappointing from the respect that I thought my results maybe would have warranted it ... and the fact that I was the fastest Canadian athlete down the track (in training) in Sochi this fall …
"But I am going to see this bad boy through, as I’ve done everything else in my life."
For his part, Canadian skeleton head coach Duff Gibson said the final men’s and women’s Olympic spots will ultimately come down to January’s performances, with Hawrysh and Montgomery still very much in the mix, if they can medal on the I.C. Cup.
"I think this plays out really well for Jon, to be totally frank with you," Gibson said. "Right now he’s behind athletes who have outperformed him on the I.C. circuit. Now we go to the North American leg of the I.C. circuit where Jon outperformed them because it’s the home track advantage … and that will help Cassie as well. And then both of them are in a situation where they have only two weeks of competition and instead of going to four different locations, they go to two different locations. So they are closer to home, they are training and sleeping in their own beds and in a familiar environment and they are refreshed and trained and ready to go by the time the Olympics hit. I think this might play out really well for the two of them."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 19, 2013