Denny Morrison a beacon amid orange wave of Dutch dominance
Canadian increases career medal total, with assist from Gilmore Junio
Canadian speed skater Denny Morrison doubled his career Olympic medal total at the Sochi Games, finally reaching the podium in an individual event.
Morrison had high hopes for the Vancouver Games after strong results the previous two years in long track, but rubbed some the wrong way during the Olympics by complaining a little too loudly after failing to skate up to his expectations.
The speed skater from Fort St. John, B.C., has matured in the last four years, showing his perseverance by coming back from two separate injuries over the past 15 months.
In a sequence that has now reached legendary status, Morrison was only put in a position to compete in the 1,000-metre race at Sochi when teammate Gilmore Junio gave up his spot. Morrison had failed to qualify at the distance due to a spill at the Olympic trials.
Calgary’s Junio displayed his selflessness when he could have, without criticism, soaked up important experience in his very first Olympics.
Morrison took silver in that 1,000-metre race and followed days later with a bronze medal effort in the 1,500 that required no assist. He had a shot at a fifth medal, but Canada lost the team pursuit bronze medal race.
The 28-year-old now has four career Olympic medals, after standing on the team pursuit podium with Canada in 2006 (silver) and 2010 (gold).
Aside from Morrison, it was a struggle at Adler Arena for Canada, which won eight medals at the Turin Games in long track, followed by five in Vancouver.
Christine Nesbitt of London, Ont., could do no better than ninth in trying to repeat as 1,000 champion. Nesbitt, Brittany Schussler of Winnipeg and Kali Christ of Regina couldn’t even get out of the first round in team pursuit, just over four years after Nesbitt and Schussler were part of a trio that set a world record time in the event.
Edmonton’s Jamie Gregg didn’t have expectations quite as great as Nesbitt or even Morrison, but an 11th in his lone event, the 500 metres, has to be considered disappointing.
Junio’s 10th place in the 500 was the only other top 10 showing on Canada’s ledger.
Dutch greatest modern Olympic team?
Canada was not alone in its struggles as the Netherlands swept the podium in four out of the 10 individual events, and won both team pursuits, taking eight gold and 23 of the 36 available medals in the sport.
The only recent team equivalent in the Olympics would be the United States swim team in 2012 in London, winners of 16 gold in 34 events, with 31 medals overall.
The previous record for speed skating was East Germany’s 13-medal haul over 10 events at the Calgary Olympics in 1988.
Jorien ter Mors set an Olympic record in the 1,500 a day after competing in short track, leading the first top-four sweep by one country in a Winter Games sport since the Germans owned luge in 1972.
Teammate Ireen Wust earned a gold and three silver in individual events. Wust's four medals were tops among all athletes competing in Sochi.
At Salt Lake City and Turin, skaters from North America were on competitive footing with the Dutch, tallying eight gold and 24 Olympic medals overall.
But things have clearly changed, with the Americans shut out of the medals in the sport for the first time since the 1984 Olympics. No U.S. skater finished better than seventh.
The U.S. media latched on to the story of the new Mach 39 suits, developed by Under Armour with expertise from aerospace giant Lockheed Martin. The suits didn’t seem to decrease air resistance, and at the very least, were introduced to the team on the eve of their most major competition.
The Americans switched back mid-competition, but were psychological wrecks by that point.
At last year’s single distance championships on the very same Sochi track, with the Americans clad in different suits, the Netherlands won half of the 12 gold medals. The North American skaters accounted for five medals, none of them gold.
While the Dutch did their fair share of gloating over their Sochi dominance, the head of the sport’s governing body essentially admitted the oldest Winter Olympic sport is a bit stagnant. New events and rules are being contemplated.
What changes will occur, and whether they will result in a more level playing field, remains to be seen.