|Posted on February 18, 2014 at 12:00 PM|
Canadian Denny Morrison wins bronze in speed skating 1,500 metres
Feb 15, 2014 - 10:13 AM EST
Last Updated: Feb 15, 2014 - 3:04 PM EST
PHOTO: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian WyldCanada's Denny Morrison celebrates as he crosses the finish line during the 1,500m speed skating event at the Sochi Winter Olympics Saturday February 15, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
SOCHI, Russia — In the early winter of 2012, when one of Denny Morrison’s cross-country skis went under the felled tree — and the rest of him went over it — he never thought the broken leg would end his career. The recovery was longer than he expected, fraught with sprained ankles and sore hips and an aching back, but he got there eventually.
It was a lot like the Olympics. He made his debut in 2006, in Italy, believing he was right in contention, only to discover he was not. The stars seemed to align again in Vancouver four years later, but disappeared behind the clouds. It seemed he would never get there.
Until this week
“It’s the best week of my life, man,” he said.
On Saturday, Morrison bolted off the start in the men’s 1,500-metre event and crossed the line in first place with five pairs left to skate. Only two of the last 10 skaters were quicker than the 28-year-old from Fort St. John, B.C., leaving him with the bronze medal.
It was the second individual medal of his career — and second in three days — and it lifted him into the realm of Canadian speed skating legend. Morrison had won medals as part of team events in Italy and Vancouver and his four medals move him into a tie with Gaetan Boucher for the most by a Canadian male at the Olympics.
“Every time you are an athlete, it’s a journey,” said retired Canadian downhill skier Steve Podborski, who is serving as Canada’s chef de mission in Sochi. “Certainly, this is a true example of how you have to continually get past your disappointments. Typically, when you’re an athlete, you lose way more than you win. So you learn a lot about losing and a bit about winning.”
The lessons have been extensive. His broken left leg followed the disappointment in Italy (where he finished 11th in the 1,500 metres) and in Vancouver (ninth), and remarkably, it would not be his final lesson in losing before he landed in Russia.
Morrison fell at the Canadian Olympic trials in December, clipping a heel 50 metres from an Olympic berth in the 1,000 metres. He did not qualify and struggled to make the team in the 1,500 metres. He made it, but not without question.
It all seemed to start paying off this week. On Monday, he received a text message from a younger teammate, Gilmore Junio, who was offering his spot in the 1,000 metres. In what has become one of the stories of the Games, Morrison filled the spot and on Wednesday, he won the silver medal, the first individual Olympic medal of his career.
“After what he did, it made it even more special,” Morrison said after his win. “Giving up your spot is unprecedented. I feel like getting my medal and cutting it in half because he deserves it.”
On Saturday, Morrison skated in the space he had earned. He wanted to start quickly and keep grinding on the slow Adler Arena ice, as the temperature reached spring-like levels outside.
“It’s a scary race,” he said. “You go to the start line, you’re like, ‘this is going to hurt.’”
He kept grinding. He crossed the line in 1:45.22, taking the lead with 10 skaters to go.
Canada’s Denny Morrison stands on the podium after winning the bronze medal in the 1,500 metres speed skating event Saturday at the Sochi Winter Olympics (Adrian Wyld/CP).
Poland’s Zbigniew Brodka skated two pairs after Morrison and ultimately won gold with a time of 1:45.006. Morrison held silver until Dutch skater Koen Verweij came within a blink of an eye of gold (1:45.009) in the final pairing.
“I feel like I can hear them just as loud as when the whole Russian crowd is cheering for Russia,” Morrison said. “I feel like my Canadian friends and all the Canadian family that’s here is cheering just as loud for me. I want to put on the performance.”
“He’s just on Cloud 9,” teammate Mathieu Giroux said. “And today, it just showed.”
Bart Schouten, his coach, said Morrison would have been added to the team even he had failed to qualify in either the 1,000 or the 1,500 at the Canadian trials, but only for team pursuit, where he has won a gold (Vancouver) and a silver (Italy). Falling at the trials, he suggested, might have been the final lesson.
“Having to work through that is really good,” Schouten said. “And that’s why I think the system of trials we have to work through, it’s kind of like the Olympics. So we did talk quite a bit after his fall.”
Morrison qualified after that fall.
“I got right in his face, I said, ‘this is awesome, this is how you deal with pressure,’” Schouten said. “This is what you can do at the Olympics … this is what it’s about.”