|Posted on February 12, 2014 at 12:15 PM|
Denny Morrison’s Sochi silver medal a gift for his hometown of Fort St. John
Feb 12, 2014 - 12:12 PM EST
Last Updated: Feb 13, 2014 - 12:43 AM EST
PHOTO: Submitted photo Left to right: Councillor Bruce Christensen, Councillor Dan Davies, Mayor Lori Ackerman, Councillor Larry Evans with the winning sculpture from the Peace Region’s recent Mayor’s Challenge.
VANCOUVER — Those special forces at work in long-track speed skater Denny Morrison earning a silver medal at the Sochi Winter Olympics on Wednesday extended beyond the selfless act by teammate Gilmore Junio.
It seems there might have been a harbinger of things to come from his proud hometown of Fort St. John.
The booming northern B.C. community held its annual High on Ice festival last weekend, an event that includes specially built ice slides and a professional ice-carving competition that attracted sculptors from France and the Netherlands.
There is also a Mayors Challenge ice-carving competition between elected officials in the Peace Region. On Saturday, Fort St. John council won, for the first time in 12 years, for a work that included three ice chairs around an oval-shaped table on which the councillors carved out an Olympic torch and the words Go Denny.
“Then he goes and wins a medal in a race he wasn’t even scheduled to be in, holy moly,” said councillor Larry Evans.
“Everybody is extremely proud of Denny. I’m sure there’s going to be all sorts of rigamarole when he gets back here. And this may just spur him on a little bit for his other races (in Sochi).”
Canada’s silver medal-winning Denny Morrison on the podium after the men’s 1,000-metre speed skating race at the Adler Arena during the Sochi Winter Olympics on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014. (Jung Yeon-Jejung, AFP/Getty Images)
Morrison, a two-time world champion at 1,500 metres, has Olympic gold and silver medals from the team pursuit in 2010 and 2006, respectively, but faltered badly in his individual races at the Richmond Olympic Oval in 2010. He was 13th in the 1,000 and ninth in the 1,500.
Then, last December at the Canadian Olympic trials he fell 50 metres from the finish line in the 1,000, failing to qualify in that distance for Sochi, although he did qualify at 1,500.
On Tuesday, Junio, who had already skated the 500 at Sochi, gave up his spot in the 1,000, noting Morrison had been “skating unreal these past few weeks” and had the better shot at a medal.
With little time to think, which might well have lessened the pressure for a guy known to be hard on himself, Morrison responded Wednesday with a terrific skate. His time of one minute, 8.43 seconds was just 4/100ths behind winner Stefan Groothuis of the Netherlands.
Lori Ackerman, the mayor of Fort St. John, called Gilmore’s act “just one of those gifts. It is remarkable.
“I can’t even explain how proud the community is of Denny,” she added. “He’s pretty much moved to Calgary now to be on the national team, but his mom and dad, his family still live in Fort St. John and are still very connected to the community. His coaches remember him fondly and it’s such a treat when he does come back.”
And about that winning ice sculpture?
“You know we’ve done some very elaborate carvings in the past. A few years ago, we actually carved the grandfather clock out of the Beauty and the Beast, complete with arms and everything, and we didn’t win.
“Our original thought this time we’d do a table and chairs and just sit down and watch somebody else win,” cracked Ackerman. “Enough is enough, we’ll just take a simple approach.
“Then as we started going, we got a little more creative. When we were done, we just sat down and pretended like we were the Greek Olympic Gods.”
Evans and Ackerman said Fort St. John frequently lost the competition in the past to Chetwynd, whose mayor was a very accomplished ice sculptor.
“The beauty of all this is that Denny was actually born in Chetwynd,” said Ackerman. “Talk about the serendipity.”
Jay Morrison, Denny’s brother, had this picture taken of himself with one of the sculpture chairs. (Submitted photo)
Morrison’s brother Jay, a former national team speed skater himself, had a picture taken sitting one of the ice sculpture chairs and took it with him to Sochi to show to Denny.
Morrison’s past Olympic success was at least partially responsible for the fact Fort St. John, a town of just 20,000, has one of only two international-size indoor long-track speed-skating facilities in Canada.
The Pomeroy Sport Centre, a 2010 Legacies project that opened in late 2009 for an all-in cost of $50 million, has two NHL-sized ice rinks on the first floor, the speed skating oval on the second and a running/walking track on the third. It also houses classrooms, meeting space and PacificSport North.
“It’s a big footprint … but it’s a very well-used building,” says Ackerman. “That last statistic I saw was that on a monthly basis, 60,000 people visit, which is three times our population going through there every month.”
Ackerman said the success of the Morrisons, who have several of their mementos hanging in the building, and Linda Johnson, who skated in the 1994 and 1998 Olympics, “turns up the heat” in getting such a facility built.
“But the real push for this type of facility came from the community.”
The Elks Speed Skating Club, which was formed in 1964 and operated an outdoor oval for years, was a key proponent. And Ackerman noted that the town also desperately needed more ice for minor hockey and figure skating.
The speed skating oval has already hosted two national championships.
“That provides the opportunity bring an amazing level of experience and knowledge to our youth,” said Ackerman. “We have some incredible kids coming up.”
With role models like Morrison — and Junio — to learn from, those kids could well be on the way to Olympic hero status themselves.