'It's a dream': Canadian speedskater wins silver after teammate gives up his spot
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, February 12, 2014 10:28AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, February 12, 2014 11:10PM EST
SOCHI, Russia -- How about having Gilmore Junio carry the Canadian flag into the closing ceremonies of the Sochi Olympics, says Denny Morrison.
How about having both long-track speedskaters lead Canada into Fisht Stadium?
Morrison, taking the place vacated Wednesday by his friend and teammate Junio, raced to silver in the 1,000 metres between a pair of Dutch skaters Thursday to write the final chapter to a remarkable story of selflessness and doing the right thing.
"It's a dream, a fairytale story," said an emotional Morrison after earning his third Olympic medal in three Games. "It's difficult to really believe that it's happening."
Having come back from a broken leg the year before, Morrison agonizingly fell at the Canadian trials in December and failed to qualify for the 1,000 metres. There was a reskate an hour later at the trials, but his tank was empty and he didn't make it.
So the 28-year-old from Fort St. John, B.C., came to Sochi with a place in the 1,500 metres and team pursuit but as a reserve in the distance that was his bread and butter.
Speed Skating Canada then approached Junio, a 23-year-old from Calgary who was 10th in Monday's 500 metres, and asked whether he would consider giving his place up to the veteran.
"It was 100 per cent my decision. They left it in my court," said Junio, who is better at the 500 than 1,000. "They said 'You can talk to Denny.'
"But it was an easy decision. The guy's been skating unreal these past few weeks and I wanted to see him skate the 1,000 metres."
On Monday night, Morrison got a text on one of the phones provided by the Canadian team. It said: "Hey man, are you ready to race the 1,000? I'll give you my spot."
Because the phone was Russian, he did not recognize the number attached to the text.
"I knew it was from a teammate but I thought maybe someone stole his phone ... I had to go hear it in person."
He jumped on a bike and went to Canada Olympic House where Junio was with both skaters' families.
"I heard it from the horse's mouth," said Morrison. "That was an Olympic moment, special in and of itself."
"He told me we need some medals on this team and he believed I could win a medal and historically I had better results in the thousand than him," he added. "And so it sounded like he wanted me to go and get this one."
Morrison, who had been preparing for his 1,500 race, said he was so pumped he could probably have raced then and there.
"I had to put on some relaxing music and calm down," he said.
The good karma awaiting Junio must be massive. Morrison says that may surface very soon.
"I've heard a rumour that Speed Skating Canada is pushing to have Gilmore Junio as the Canadian flag-bearer at the closing ceremonies," he said. "Maybe that's something we can get behind, because I think that would be really special. He does embody what it means to be a Canadian Olympian, I think."
Stefan Groothuis of the Netherlands won in one minute 8.39 seconds, ahead of Morrison in 1:08.43 and 500-metre champion Michel Mulder of the Netherlands in 1:08.74.
Vincent De Haitre of Cumberland, Ont., was 20th while William Dutton of Humboldt, Sask., was 26th and Muncef Ouardi of Quebec City was 32nd.
Groothuis, a two-time world champion, posted his time in the 16th pairing. Morrison and Mulder went next, clocking the second and third-best times.
Three pairings remained, including American star Shani Davis, but none of the remaining skaters could knock them off the podium.
Mulder became the first double medallist at the Sochi games. Morrison, meanwhile, became the only non-Dutch male speedskater to win a medal here.
"The only thing that could have made it better was five-hundredths of a second," Morrison said.
"But I'm pretty satisfied with silver, to be honest."
Particularly because in his third Olympics, he finally delivered the race he was capable of. Morrison said he would have celebrated the performance even if it did not come with a medal.
But it did. And it sent Morrison climbing into the stands, where he gave his girlfriend Nicole a smooch of Olympic proportions before hugging his parents, brother and sister, his cousin and his cousin's friend, his brother's girlfriend, and Nicole's parents, sister and best friend.
"My girlfriend got maybe the biggest celebration," he said with a laugh.
When Morrison stepped on the podium for the flower ceremony -- the medals come Thursday -- he literally jumped for joy.
The Dutch have now four of the five speedskating finals at the Olympics, including all three of the men's event. They have claimed 10 of the 15 medals up for grabs so far, sweeping both the men's 500 and 5,000 metres.
Morrison, a three-time Olympian who won gold in the team pursuit four years ago in Vancouver and silver in Turin in 2006, has two fourth-place finishes in the 1,000 on the World Cup circuit this season. He was 13th in the 1,000 at the 2010 Vancouver Games.