|Posted on February 3, 2010 at 4:56 PM|
As an athlete, he's just now reaching the peak of his powers
By George Johnson, Calgary Herald; Canwest News Service February 3, 2010 7:53 AM
Speed skater Denny Morrison of Fort St. John, B.C., says he's prepared for the 'hometown' pressure he will face.
Photograph by: Tobias Schwarz, Reuters, Calgary Herald; Canwest News Service
Whenever Denny Morrison becomes engaged in conversation these days, casually checks a cellphone text or scans his e-mails, someone always seems to be pushing the same button.
The Aren't You Panicked? button.
"That's what everyone wants to know; at least, wants me to tell them,'' Morrison says. "That I'm nervous. I get that question all the time now; so often I've lost count. My friends, the media, family looking for tickets in Vancouver, they're all asking the same thing. 'The Olympics are SO close ... aren't you nervous!' Or 'Do you have trouble sleeping at night?' Or variations along that line.
"Am I nervous? Well, to answer everyone's question: No. Nervous implies a lack of confidence, that you're scared, that there's a seed of doubt implanted in the back of your mind. I'm not nervous. I'm prepared.''
With five-medal wonderwoman Cindy Klassen fighting to regain world-dominating form after undergoing double knee surgery, perennial Games favourite Jeremy Wotherspoon trying to hit top gear after a year away due to a broken left arm and expectations still staggeringly high for the long-track team to at least equal the eight podium finishes delivered at the 2006 Turin Olympics, dynamic young skaters such as Kristina Groves, Christine Nesbitt and Morrison are being counted on to step up and deliver the goods.
These truly are a home Olympics for Morrison, what with Fort St. John, B.C., lying 1,237 kilometres north of Vancouver. He may live in Calgary now to train with the national team and attend school, but he's a West Coast guy at heart who works with KidSport B.C., helping secure sports equipment for needy children.
"When I was growing up, my parents may not have bought that new video game or computer for me if I asked for it, but if I had my eye on a mountain bike, I could be pretty sure (I'd get it). They believe in an active lifestyle.''
As an athlete, Morrison is just now reaching the peak of his powers. Vancouver represents his second Olympic experience, but think of his participation at the 2006 Games as an early pencil sketch, and 2010 as the finished drawing.
"He's far more mature, physically and mentally,'' says his coach, Marcel Lacroix. "Before Turin, Denny was just a kid. The most important competition in his career to that point had been the world juniors. That's quite a jump, from Rosedale, Minnesota, to the Olympic Games. A 'Wow! Am I really here?' moment. And you have to say he handled it really well.
"Since then, his performances have got bigger, his times better, at world championships and world single distances and in World Cups. Now the trick is to translate those successes, deal with expanding expectations, on the biggest stage there is.
"Because the Olympics, no matter what anyone tells you, are unlike any other competition. You can try to persuade yourself it's just another race. It isn't. The world championships? Different. World Cups? Different. This is the big daddy. I compare the Olympics to playing and practising in the NHL. Everything else is practice, the Olympics are The Game.
"As a coach, you can help prepare your athletes in practices, but at game time, they're out there on their own.''
Morrison doesn't mind being out on the tightrope without a net or a parasol. The man's a former world record holder in the 1,500 metres. He fully understands what he's capable of achieving.
"In 2006, I was kind of the hotshot kid, new to the scene. But I have a lot to draw on since then. I've had the experience of 30 World Cup races since Turin. I've been on podiums and won medals at world single distance championships and world championships. I've had good days and bad days. I've dealt with a lot.
"I understand far better what's required to put in a big performance when it really matters.''
In the 1,000 metres, American superstar Shani Davis -- Morrison's old training ally -- is the overwhelming favourite, having won the four World Cup stops at the distance this season. Two Koreans, Tae-Bum Mo and Kyou-Hyuk Lee, are very much in the mix, along with Finland's Mika Poutala, Dutchman Mark Tuitert, Chad Hendrick of the U.S. And, naturally, Morrison.
In the 1,500, everyone's still chasing Davis, who sizzled to a world record of 1:41.09 at the Salt Lake World Cup stop in December. Norwegian veteran Havard Bokko, Hendrick and Morrison are expected to fight it out for the other two podium spots.
Individually, Morrison's also slated to race the 5,000 on the first day of competition. As a key component of the men's pursuit team -- in Turin, he didn't participate but as part of the group received a silver -- there's another solid chance for a medal.
"Honestly,'' Morrison explains, "a medal is only a by-product of the process. What matters is the performance. When I cross the finish line, in that second before my time is posted on the board, I know in my heart if I've skated a good race, a great race or a poor one. And that's what counts.
"If I know in my heart I skated fast, chances are that I'm going to be right there.''
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