By Terry Bell - Canwest Olympic Team
WHISTLER -- It may seem odd that
a guy whose event is all about speed
would have a turtle painted on the
front of his helmet.
But Canadian skeleton racer Jon
Montgomery isn't about to mess with
the wisdom of a shaman.
Last September some members of
the Canadian team -- which begins
its quest for gold Thursday night at
the Whistler Sliding Centre --
visited sport shaman Sandra Molendyk
in Revelstoke, B.C.. They had their
sleds blessed and built a totem pole
and painted it with their own hopes
Part of the exercise was to
discover their spirit or power
animal. Montgomery, an auctioneer
from Russell, Man., discovered his
spirit animal was a turtle.
"He accompanies me on my helmet
and sled," said Montgomery of the
Montgomery also has the helmet
painted in a native theme.
Just before coming to Whistler
for the Games, Montgomery had
Vancouver native artist Phil Gray do
the art work for the helmet. Black
Tusk Gallery in Whistler
commissioned it. The helmet also has
a thunderbird on it.
"The thunderbird is the main
theme but it was my idea to put the
turtle on the helmet," explained
Montgomery after a training run this
"This is what I asked for and I'm
really happy with what I got. I
thought it was fitting to pay
respect to the First Nations people
and apparently their folklore states
that the thunderbird lives up behind
Blackcomb Mountain. It's a powerful
animal and one of their most prized
symbols. I thought it would be good
to pay respect to that and honour
the people here and have my spirit
animal guide me down the track."
Mellisa Hollingsworth, the
current leader in the World Cup
standings has a horse skull on her
helmet but it has nothing to do with
She grew up on a ranch near
Eckville, Alta. Horses and rodeo are
in her blood.
Hollingsworth also visited the
shaman after coach Kelly Forbes had
organized the retreat.
"It was awesome, a great getaway
weekend," Hollingsworth said. "A lot
of it has to do with getting to know
yourself, flushing away all the crap
inside of you and having peace. You
learn more about your soul and
"We were in search of our power
animals and that was kind of a
unique experience for me. We were
lying on the ground and she was
taking us through this meditation
and I had all these ants crawling
all over me. I'm trying not to move
and I don't want to disturb the rest
of my team. Then I got thinking
about how strong an ant is, how hard
they work and the family unit and I
guess that's what my power animal
Ants, horses, turtles,
thunderbirds, wolves, shamans,
retreats ... it must be working
because the Canadian sliders are
have been enjoying a strong World
Cup season and are among the
Montgomery, who won the World Cup
on this track last season and
Hollingsworth, a bronze medalist at
the 2006 Olympics in Turin and the
top ranked slider on the women's
World Cup circuit are just glad it's
getting close to race day.
"I'm excited to get going," said
Hollingsworth, who had the day's
fastest women's speed -- 142.5 km/h
-- and fastest time -- 53.90 seconds
in her fifth and first of two
training runs Wednesday. "It's been
a great week. It's nice to have the
internationals here and see if
you're on track or not. I'm
definitely happy with the week's
Montgomery -- the flying turtle
-- has also been blistering the
track all week. He hit 142.90, the
third fastest speed behind teammate
Jeff Pain's 143.0 and 143.9.
Montgomery had the fastest time in
each training run Wednesday, a 53.09
in the first and a 53.40 in the
Latvia's Martins Dukurs, another
pre-race favourite, has been
impressed by Montgomery's runs.
"He's smashing down," said
Dukurs. "He's going down smoking.
It's a big advantage for him, this
home track. It's a tough track and
he has really solid runs. This is
the toughest track in the world."
Dukurs was predicting a bit of
volatility in these four-run, total
time men's and women's events which
will both be run over the next two
"I think you could win with four
fourth places if you have constant
good runs," he said. "Last year at
World Cup Jeff Pain was first after
the first run and`11th in the
Dukurs said he's about 40 runs.
Is that enough?
"No," he said with a laugh. "I
wish I could slide 150 more."
Montgomery said he's as ready as
he'll ever be. He doesn't put much
stock in fast training runs
"Everybody's reserved on the push
starts," he said. "Martins Dukurs
has quite a bit in the bank left. He
was what, 11/100th behind me? He
could be that far ahead of me after
the start tomorrow."
Pain, a silver medalist in Turin
who has a raging beaver on his
helmet, is tired of training and
just wants to race.
"I was at that stage a month
ago," he said. Let's just go race.
I've never felt more prepared for a
The third man on the team --
Toronto's Michael Douglas -- has a
plain black helmet.
His spirit animal is the horse.
It's a dark horse.
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