WHISTLER, BRITISH COLUMBIA For hour after hour late Friday night, the Whistler Blackcomb gondola ferried thousands of delighted Canadians down from the Blackcomb Mountain skeleton course to the crowded, festive streets of Whistler Village.
Elated by Jon Montgomery's dramatic gold-medal victory in men's skeleton, most remained in the tiny, tony mountain town, where they listened to music, drank beer, and cheerfully chest-bumped one another.
And then someone noticed that the gondola had just disgorged Montgomery himself.
As he walked down the steps and into one of this resort town's humanity-packed streets, a red-and-white sea of Canada clothing parted for this flaky used-car auctioneer from Manitoba who quickly has become this nation's newest sports hero.
The red-bearded Montgomery, whooping as loudly as any of his new fans, strode through the joyful gauntlet, high-fiving, hugging, hooraying.
During a news conference earlier at the Whistler Sliding Center, he had noted that he intended to have a pint later. Now the hyped-up 30-year-old looked in desperate need of one, or any other sort of calming agent.
Suddenly, as if conjured by some mountain Merlin, a pitcher of beer appeared from out of the crowd.
Montgomery grasped it thankfully and, while continuing his impromptu victory parade, began eagerly consuming it. This too elicited great cheers.
When these 2010 Winter Olympics end, whether or not Canada has owned the podium, Montgomery figures to stay in the spotlight even if his sport does not.
He is an Olympian mix of contradictory qualities - swaggering yet self-effacing, blunt yet thoughtful, spacy yet down-to-earth, manic yet polite. Shaun White meets Dan Jansen.
When he saw that race favorite Martins Dukurs had come up just .07 of a second shy of his winning time on the event's final run, Montgomery snapped - pumping his fists, hugging his coaches and teammates, celebrating wildly.
Then he apologized to the vanquished Latvian.
"I had said at the beginning of the race that if I was in that position and I did get gold coming from behind that I was going to remain stoic and respectful because you never want to cheer when somebody else loses," he said. "But I have to apologize to Martins. That didn't happen. I lost my mind when I saw the .07 come up. It was like I had stuck my finger in a light socket."
Montgomery, who made himself a favorite to carry the flag in the closing ceremonies, also has the kind of background story Canadians won't soon forget.
He grew up in the tiny prairie town of Russell, Manitoba. His father named him Jonathan Riley after two NHL tough guys he admired Stan Jonathan and Terry O'Reilly.
The boy played hockey, of course, and baseball and had a patriotic streak as wide as the nearby wheatfields. He and a friend traveled to Montreal in 1995, waving a maple-leaf flag on the day Quebec nearly voted to become an independent nation.
He took automotive-marketing courses at schools in Canada and Texas. Then he went to Mason City, Iowa, to study at the Worldwide College of Auctioneering. He conducts auto sales in Calgary now, and, as he's only too willing to demonstrate, can auction-babble like a North Carolina tobacco seller.
Montgomery discovered skeleton by accident in 2002 and quickly decided that he wanted to compete in an Olympics someday.
Once he made the national team, he and a few other Canadians consulted a First Nations (Canada's native people) shaman who helped athletes find their spirit animal. The shaman told Montgomery his was a turtle.
That's why there was a hand-painted turtle on his helmet Friday night, sharing space with a thunderbird.
"Apparently, their folklore states that the thunderbird lives up behind Blackcomb Mountain," he said. "It's a powerful animal and one of their most prized symbols. I thought it would be good to pay respect to that and honor the people here and have my spirit animal guide me down the track."
Fortunately for Montgomery and Canada, it was the thunderbird that guided him and not the turtle.
Someone asked Montgomery what he hoped to do now that he'd won a gold medal. He was reluctant to look that far ahead.
"You get beyond what's in front of your nose on a skeleton track, and you are going to be ass-over-teakettle in a world of hurt," he said. "We'll worry about how this might change my life after the Olympics are over."
Contact staff writer Frank Fitzpatrick at 215-854-5068 or firstname.lastname@example.org