Speed Skating

Manon Gilbert - Friday Jan. 17, 2014 08:53 ET

Denny Morrison sets things straight

Skater vows not to repeat same 'mistakes' of 2010

Denny Morrison
Denny Morrison (VINCENT JANNINK/AFP/Getty Images)

Feb. 26, 2010, was a crucial day in the life of Denny Morrison. If the Canadian speed skaters had not made the quarter-finals in men’s pursuit, Morrison would not have hesitated for a moment: He would have hung his skates to the wall for good.

That’s what he was thinking that rainy afternoon on his way to the Richmond skating rink, disappointed like he had never been before by his 13th and 9th-place showings, respectively, in the 1,000 and 1,500 metres, letdowns for the great medal contender who already had silver and bronze at the World Cup.

Like a real professional, he did not let his mental state interfere with his performances. Morrison and his teammates Mathieu Giroux and Lucas Makowsky defeated the Italians – the defending Olympic champions - in the quarters and the Norwegians in semis, and with an Olympic record each time to boot.

“Let’s say that I went back home in a completely different state of mind," said Morrison. "As I was walking, I was thinking that I was going to get a gold or a silver the next day."

We know how it went. A day later, Morrison contributed to winning Canada’s 12th gold medal at the Vancouver Games.

“That medal was a turning point in my life," he said.

And yet, Morrison, who switched to long track at 17 after failing to qualify for the short-track team, took one more year before being able to get past his disappointing individual performances. This is the reason why, the following season, he took off his skates and didn’t start training until August. Inevitably, the quality of his performances suffered.

“I did not give myself the chance to reach my full potential in 2011. I was not focused on training, even though I was participating in some competitions. After the world championships, I had to remind myself that if I wanted to be successful, I could not do things half-heartedly.” 

He went on to win silver in team pursuit that year at the World Cup.

It was all he needed to get motivated again after the Vancouver disappointment and the mixed results of 2011. In 2012, he came back with the world title in 1,500 metres and his best season in three years.

“I had already won gold at the 2008 World Cup, but the one of 2012 made me prouder. I had high expectations at the Olympic Games and later on I had to face some problems that were affecting my individual races," he said. "I am very proud of that gold medal in 2012 because it’s the result of my persistence.”

It was a good moment in his career, just like in 2008. Back then, he had shared the title of speed skater of the year with Jeremy Wotherspoon, the illustrious skater who missed his comeback at the Sochi Games for 6-100ths of a second.

The rink in his dining room

Looking back, Morrison recognizes that he made some mistakes before the Vancouver Games. Obsessed by his quest for perfection, the holder of 50 World Cup podiums - 12 of them victories - had placed all of his eggs in one basket.

“I wanted to be in control of everything” confesses Morrison, who has been a member of the national team for 10 years now. “The best example: I moved to Vancouver two years before the Games. I lived five minutes from the rink. I could see the rink from my kitchen and from my dining room. I was watching television and, on the background, I would see the rink. Every day I had the Games in my face.”

After that, the athlete from Fort St. John, B.C., understood that there are things outside of his control, and he took up a normal life again in Calgary, where he trains. In any case, the idea of moving to Russia did not appeal to him at all.

His need for control was such that he even got to the point of frequently questioning the decision of his coach. His excellent 2012 season reassured him that the program was working very well.

He started 2013 along the same lines, with a victory and a silver medal at the World Cup, until a cross-country ski accident in December that turned into a nightmare: a fibula fracture and a sprained ankle. 

Back just in time for the Sochi World Cup last March, where he finished 13th-place at the 1,000 metres, Morrison approaches his third Olympic Games with a more relaxed attitude, but with the same goal. Especially given that he seems to be more successful on the ice rinks at sea level.

“Sochi represents an opportunity to win an individual medal. At my first two Games, I was among the best hopes for individual distances, but each time I came back with a team pursuit medal (including a silver in Turin in 2006). This time, I am going to concentrate on a medal in individual distance, because it’s the only one I’m still missing.”

His prospects ran the risk of being cut short during the Olympic trials last month after he fell a few metres before the arrival line in the 1,000 metres. However, two days later he won the 1,500 metres with ease and secured his spot in Sochi.

Will he quit the ice after the Games? It’s too early to say. Before the Vancouver Games, he was sure he was going to continue his career, but he almost quit then. A choice that he would have deeply regretted today.

One thing is certain: if he wanted to become a doctor after high school, he no longer intends to.

“Speed skating has influenced every aspect of my life. All the knowledge and the experience that I’ve acquired by practising this sport have shaped my development.

"In fact, speed skating doesn’t influence my life, it IS my life. I cannot imagine a life without it.”

This story has been translated from French and edited by CBC Sports 

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