CALGARY - Jon Montgomery is about to test the results of a season away from skeleton racing.
The reigning Olympic men's champion starts training on a new sled next week at Calgary's Canada Olympic Park.
Montgomery took the 2011-2012 World Cup season off to overhaul his equipment because of a lack of podium finishes following his victory at the Whistler Sliding Centre in 2010.
With an eye on defending his Olympic title in 2014, he wanted a sled setup that performs on tracks around the world and not just Whistler.
What Montgomery will take to the track next week is the sum of months of collaboration with engineers, sport scientists and materials manufacturers.
"I've surrounded myself with really smart people," he says. "The engineers are the guys who brought my ideas to fruition, the ideas that I haphazardly scrawl on paper (they bring) to an actual technical drawing that somebody can fashion out of steel."
Montgomery doesn't believe a season off from racing was radical or risky, but there is an element of the unknown as he prepares to return. The Canadian team's selection races for the World Cup team are Oct. 20 and 21.
"There's no question in my mind whether I did the right thing," Montgomery says. "It's whether or not the work that I'm doing, is it the right work? Is it the right direction?
"Time will tell if this evolution is going to be in the right direction."
The 33-year-old from Russell, Man., gave Canadians a memorable moment of the 2010 Winter Games when he auctioned off a pitcher of beer in downtown Whistler following his victory.
As in Formula One racing, sliders don't like to reveal the secrets of their sleds' make up or set up, lest their competitors copy their ideas.
Montgomery says his season off was more about customizing a sled to his wants and needs than creating something out of the movie "Back To The Future."
"It's not the DeLorean. I can't travel back in time," Montgomery says. "I'd like to leave flaming lines on the skeleton track and perhaps disappear to another, simpler time.
"Everybody has their own driving styles and tastes and how they want something operate," he continues.
"The fuddy-duddy old fella down the street wants his Cadillac to gently roll over every pot hole and feel like he's on his living room couch when he's driving down the road. Some young whipper snapper next door wants his Honda to feel every pot hole and feel like his ride is on rails.
"What I'm trying to do is design something in my mind's eye that handles and responds to the track and the subtleties of driving a skeleton sled in a way that I want to. If I can accomplish that, I think I'll be able to realize an improvement in performance."
In hindsight, taking last season off was also beneficial because his wife Darla, also a member of the Canadian skeleton team, sustained a severe concussion while training in Norway last December.
The couple were married last August. Darla Deschamps-Montgomery placed eighth in the 2011 world championships prior to her concussion. Montgomery says his wife's condition is improving, but she hasn't been cleared to start training again.
"I'm even more grateful having been able to take the year off to be around and be able to support her," Montgomery says. "It would have been almost impossible for her to have been on her own coming out of that concussion last January and February.
"It was pretty dark days for her. To be around her was where I needed to be."
Montgomery is ready to race again after his hiatus. Latvia's Martins Dukurs is now the man to beat at the next Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, after winning back-to-back world titles.
"I'd be stupid not to be excited," Montgomery says. "This is my life. This is what I do. This is not something that is a hobby for me.
"I want to test my mettle against the rest of the world. I've been working hard on projects that are potentially going to help me do that at a greater level. Keep your eyes peeled because I'm going to be going lickety split down the track."
Montgomery recently joined Ducks Unlimited Canada as a spokesman for the organization's 75th anniversary.
"They identified in me, a Manitoba prairie boy, as someone who got his start in sport by being able to take advantage of the outdoor spaces and marshes and a pond in my hometown of Russell where I learned to skate and so on," he explains.
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