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Families are athletes' 'backbone' at Games

Posted on February 22, 2010 at 2:24 AM

By Lori Culbert, Canwest Olympic Team February 21, 2010 8:02 PM

Denny Morrison of Canada cools down following his 9th place finish in the men's 1500-meter speedskating competition at Richmond, BC during the Winter Olympics. Photograph by: John Mahoney, Canwest News Service

VANCOUVER — As the nation collectively held its breath Saturday — in anticipation that Denny Morrison might bring Canada another medal — there were more than a dozen members of his family also feeling that tension in the stands at the Richmond Olympic Oval.

Morrison, of Fort St. John, B.C., had not reached the podium earlier in the week, after disappointing finishes in the 5,000- and 1,000-metre events, but the 1,500 metres is his strongest race. At one time, he held the world record.

The packed crowd at the oval erupted in frantic applause for all four Canadian speedskaters, but the loudest support came for Morrison. “You can do it!” a spectator hollered just before the starter’s whistle blew. When the scoreboard flashed that Morrison was in second place mid-race, the building went berserk. Canadian flags gyrated, and fans hooted with glee.

But the oval fell silent when he flew across the finish line in fifth. Morrison’s brother Jay, himself a competitive speedskater, buried his head in his hands in disbelief. The night would end with the home-province medal hopeful in ninth place.

Morrison, just 24, skated dejectedly around the oval’s practice track a few times, not acknowledging supporters in the crowd, lost in thought about what had gone wrong. It was a repeat of the 1,000-metre race, which left him frustrated — but his mother Carol proud that her son was trying his best.

“To us he looked great. He looked like he was having a really good solid race. You’re disappointed for him, certainly not in him,” she said. “You couldn’t be prouder. You even feel pride in the way he has to hold his head and go on.”

That pride is shared by the hundreds of people who came to Vancouver and Whistler, B.C., to support their son, daughter, husband, wife, nephew, niece, grandchild — or even their parent.

When 28-year-old Marc Kennedy looks into the crowd at the packed Vancouver Olympic Centre,......We’ll love him no matter what, but we want him to win.”

The nerves also kick in for Carol Morrison, who shlepped her three kids back and forth to practices and competitions for two decades.

“There’s a feeling of helplessness. You’re confident, you know your child is ready, but on any given day you don’t know what will happen,” she said.

And the pressure is high, unlike in Turin where a young Morrison was competing in his first Olympic Games. He was expected to medal here, in his home province, and has one more chance in the team pursuit next weekend.

The Morrisons try not to think too much about the possibility of a family member winning an Olympic medal on home ice.

“You start to think like that, but then think, ‘Oh no, I don’t want to jinx him,’ ” older sister Julie said. “You want him to medal, but you really just want him to skate his best.”

Big brother Jay — who had his appendix removed last summer and failed to qualify for the Olympics — watches Denny’s races with a technical eye, and can detect fraction-of-a-second subtleties that go unnoticed by others. “When he races well, I know,” Jay said. “And it’s hard for me when he doesn’t race well.”

It was clear Denny did not think he had skated well Saturday, as he forlornly told reporters post-race that he didn’t know why but he had “exploded” in the final lap around the oval, loosing his momentum.

There were a dozen other Morrison relatives in the stands for Saturday’s race — from Newfoundland, Ontario, Alberta and B.C. — to root for Denny.

“He loves people in the stands . . . it seems special that all these people have come to watch,” Jay said. “Denny is a great competitor. That kind of thing feeds the beast.”

And, besides, all those friendly faces are around after the race, to either help you celebrate or cheer you up.

“In either situation or scenario, here they are,” Jay said.

With a file from George Johnson, Canwest Olympic Team

© Copyright (c) Canwest News Service


Categories: In the Spotlight, 2010 Vancouver Olympics

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