|Posted on February 13, 2014 at 8:00 AM|
Speedskater Denny Morrison wins surprise silver
By BETH HARRIS
AP Sports Writer February 13, 2014
Silver medallist Canada's Denny Morrison celebrates after competing in the men's 1,000-meter speedskating race at the Adler Arena Skating Center during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014. PAVEL GOLOVKIN — AP Photo
SOCHI, Russia — A text message popped up on Denny Morrison's cell phone: "Are you ready for a 1,000 meters? Yea or nay?"
At first, the 28-year-old Canadian speedskater wasn't sure who it was from. Once he realized it was Gilmore Junio, Morrison figured his teammate was joking around.
Morrison didn't qualify for the 1,000 in the Sochi Olympics after he fell at the Canadian trials. Junio was offering up his spot in the race, a gesture Morrison at first found hard to believe.
He paid back the favor on Wednesday, earning a silver medal. It was Morrison's third career Olympic medal and first in an individual race. It also was Canada's first medal in five days of speedskating.
"It's a fairytale story for me," Morrison said. "I can't really believe it."
Stefan Groothuis of the Netherlands won the gold in 1 minute, 8.39 seconds. Morrison was clocked in 1:08.43. Groothuis' teammate, Michel Mulder, took the bronze in 1:08.74.
"It's unprecedented that someone qualifies for the Olympics and gives up their spot to allow a teammate to take it," Morrison said. "I knew when Gilmore gave up that spot I had a job to do, and I felt ready. I had the best 1,000 meter I've had in two years."
Junio finished 10th in the 500 on Monday. Afterward, the Canadian coaches approached him about ceding his berth in the 1,000 to Morrison, who is his country's strongest skater at the longer distance.
"It was a no brainer for Denny to be in there instead of me," Junio said. "I knew he had a good chance to get a medal after I saw him skate these past two weeks. He did it, it's pretty incredible, and all props go to him."
Morrison and Junio hugged each other after the flower ceremony at Adler Arena.
"I actually feel like I want to cut the medal in half and give him half," Morrison said. "He deserves it."
Junio downplayed his decision, although tweets congratulating him on his sportsmanship flowed in.
"It's his medal and he deserves this as much as anybody," Junio said. "He's worked his butt off since breaking his leg."
Morrison broke his leg cross-country skiing in December 2012 and was off the ice for four months. The 23-year-old Junio started out as a short track skater before injuring his back in a crash five years ago and switching to long track.
"He's been training with me for the last four years, making me stronger in my openers," Morrison said. "I had one of my fastest openers in six years today and that's what got me the silver medal."
Once Junio decided to skip the 1,000, he texted a surprised Morrison, who then checked with the coaching staff to see if Junio was serious. The coaches claimed they knew nothing about it, so Morrison hurried over to Canada House in the Olympic Park to talk with Junio in person.
"I knew a happy Denny is a fast Denny," Junio said.
Both skaters' families were there when Junio said he was indeed offering Morrison his berth.
"That was a moment I'll probably never forget as well," Morrison said. "My mom was crying with his mom and that's before we won a medal. I say we won a medal because really it's a team thing."
Morrison will skate in the 1,500 on Saturday, while Junio's first Olympics are over.
Still, the good times are just getting going for the two skaters who will be forever linked.
"We'll be celebrating for sure," Junio said.