CALGARY, A.B. – Denny Morrison proved just much of an elite athlete he is this past weekend, when he qualified to represent Canada in both the 1,000 metre and 1,500 metre distances at the ICU World Cup events this fall.
The Fort St. John native and four-time Olympic medalist skated in his first sanctioned competition in 18 months, after a motorcycle accident in May 2015 and suffering a stroke back in April. Morrison skated in the 500 metres on Friday afternoon, when he placed 14th with a time of 36:57, just over 2 seconds behind first place finisher Gilmore Junio. Dawson Creek’s Jacob Graham finished in 9th with a time of 35.52.
“The 500m is not my best event, but it’s hard not to compare this race to my personal best or to my average race,” Morrison pointed out. “This 500m was well below what I can do, but I need to keep things in perspective and I need to look at where I was six months ago. Things are generally trending in the right direction in training and there’s a plan in place that involves me making the Olympics a year and a half from now. I need to stay positive and keep making sure things continue to trend in the right direction. I also have the 1000m and the 1500m coming up this weekend, and I predict better results in those.”
On Saturday, Morrison skated in the 1,000 metres, in which he won the silver medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. He finished 4th in the qualifier with a time of 1:09.508 behind Vincent de Haître of Cumberland, ON, who won it in 1:08.12. de Haître was followed by Gilmore Junio (1:09.02) and Laurent Dubreuil, who finished ahead of Morrison by only three thousandths of a second. De Haître, Junio, Dubreuil and Morrison all achieved the time standard of 1:09.53 needed to be eligible to qualify in this distance for the first World Cup of the 2016-2017 season.
“I’m feeling happy right now, especially about being in the hunt with the top guys. These are some of the best sprinters in the world,” noted Morrison. “Vincent (de Haître) beat me by 1.5 seconds and he is going to be on the podium on the World Cup Circuit this year. With the perspective I have from yesterday and based on where I am regarding my recovery, it feels good to be in the hunt like this. My opener is just not there, I’m a second behind these guys. The snap is also missing, so if I can get that back, things will fall into place.”
Morrison managed an impressive rebound in the 1,500 metre on Sunday, when he came second only to de Haître, who earned his second victory of the weekend. De Haître beat his personal best by 28 hundredths of a second with a time of 1:44.27, good for first place. That time is also the fastest in the world in that distance so far this season. Morrison finished in 1:46.62, ahead of Sault Ste. Marie’s Richard Maclennan (1:46.86), and Calgary native Ted-Jan Bloemen of who skated to a time of 1:47.18. All four came within the time standard of 1:47.14 needed to be eligible to for the first World Cup event of the 2016-2017 season in Harbin, China next month.
“I’m really happy with the outcome and mostly happy with how my teammate Vincent de Haître did,” said Morrison. “Seeing Richard (Maclennan) qualify and Vince posting a world class time was great. From my side, I’m obviously happy that I qualified. It was a solid race for me. I feel like a junior again, not really knowing where I stand compared to my teammates. It makes me feel a lot younger. I know I will improve as I continue to skate.”
“During my recovery, I kept telling myself that I just needed to get on the ice and do like I’ve done in the past. But I’m just not able to do that yet. I’ve been away from the ice for two years and I need to give myself time. In the 1500m, I really put emphasis on relaxing and it gave me some good results. I’m excited to use that as a foundation to build off of, and I’m confident that I can get post-stroke personal bests.”