Sochi Olympics an emotional experience for Fort St. John’s Denny Morrison

Morrison says when he first heard about competing in the 1,000 metres he thought someone was playing a prank on his phone.

“I had just gotten back and I left my phone in the accommodations to charge and I noticed a few missed messages and calls from a Russian number. I had taken my SIM card out of my Russian phone and put it into my personal phone. I never had the contacts for those numbers so I didn’t realize who it was from,” he explains. “It was asking me if I was ready for the 1,000 metres and I was like ‘who is this, is this a joke?’. I had no idea someone had given me their spot in the 1,000 metres and it turned out it was Gilmore Junio who very graciously gave me his spot and gave me that opportunity to race it.”

Upon seeing Junio for the first time after finding out he had given up his spot, Morrison says it was an emotional experience that he won’t forget.

“Once I knew it wasn’t a joke text I wanted to see him in person. I still wanted to see him in person to make sure I wasn’t jumping to any conclusions. I went to the Canada Olympic House where his family was and my family was there was well. I heard it right from the horse’s mouth and hugged it out with him. I told my parents that Gilmore officially gave me his spot for the 1,000 metres and I would be racing in two days. My parents were super excited; they were crying and they were going over and thanking Gilmore and thanking Gilmore’s parents and all of his family. It was an Olympic moment that I’ll never forget.”

Despite only finding out two days prior to the race, Morrison was not unprepared for taking part in the event as he had skated the distance recently, and knew something like this may happen as he was the first alternate for long track speed skating.

“I actually raced the 1,000 metre exactly one week before the 1,000. I did the 1,000 practice race just to get a race under my belt on the Sochi ice. Ultimately I was preparing for the 1,500 metre race but me and my coach knew that there was a possibility in the 500 metres which happened three days before the 1,000 metres, there was that possibility someone might get injured, or might not be happy with their results, or for whatever reason may give up a spot and I was the first alternate so we did have it built into the plan that should a spot come open for me in the 1,000, I’d be ready for it.”

While some may think having only two days to prepare for an event against the best speed skaters in the world would be a big disadvantage, Morrison says it worked out great for him as he didn’t have much time to over think what was happening.

“As soon as I found out from Gil we had that celebratory family bonding cry and hugging session it was 10:30 at night. I was super wired and excited, I couldn’t believe what happened. I tried to get to sleep but I was so excited for it. I had one sleep then pre-race, then another sleep and I was racing. I thought I had still five days until my 1,500 metres, so it was almost a benefit in some ways to not have been thinking about the 1,000. Once I found out three days before I’d be racing it, now I’m all excited and I was completely ready to go.”

As for the 1,500 metre race, Morrison’s results in the World Cup events didn’t indicate he’d be a serious medal threat. He credits his silver medal performance in the 1,000 metre race as playing a big role in his bronze in the 1,500.

“Especially given some of my results in the World Cups, I think I was fifth in one in the 1,500 metres that was my best World Cup result in the last few years. I think maybe if I didn’t have the opportunity to race the 1,000 and get that silver medal I may not have had as much confidence going into it. After finishing my last lap in the 1,000 that gave me a lot of confidence that I could have a really good 1,500. I went full steam off the line and tried to hang on.” 

For Morrison medalling at the Olympics is something he says he dreamed of after some less than desirable results in Torino and Vancouver.

“That’s something I’d always dreamed of. There was a World Cup event in Torino about a month or two before the Olympics on the Olympic ice. I won my first World Cup medal there in the 1,000 metre and my second one in the 1,500 metre a few days later. I pictured myself as a medal threat in the Olympics and I ended up with two results in the teens. I trained really hard for four years to get those individual medals that I missed out on in Torino, and in Vancouver again I had some poor races and ended up 13th in the 1,000 and eighth in the 1,500.”

He continues by saying, “I knew I had what it takes, I just needed to put down my best race possible on that day. The way that it happened with Gilmore pulling out and getting the medal in the 1,000, I celebrated so hard with my coach and my support staff just cheering and almost crying. I was so excited about getting the individual medal that seemed to be so allusive, something that I might not ever accomplish.”

When he wasn’t on the ice, Morrison also provided entertainment on his Twitter account when he live tweeted various moments of the opening ceremony. He says he first did it at the London summer games and thought it would be fun to do it in Sochi as an athlete actually competing.

“One of the things that inspired me was during the London Olympics in the opening ceremony I sent a few tweets off making silly comments and I had not even 1,000 followers so I didn’t think it would get too much attention but because it was the Olympics and because I was a previous Olympian it got re-tweeted by certain news stations and the sarcastic comments I made got more attention than I thought possible and it made me realize if I tweet something during these opening ceremonies being an Olympian at them, that it could be a lot of fun.” 

Morrison also took part in the team pursuit speed skating event and finished in fourth place at the Sochi Olympics.