Going into the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, the Canadian Olympic team adopted the catchy tag line ‘We Are Winter.’ After speed skaters Denny Morrison and Gilmore Junio provided one of the most heartwarming stories in recent Olympic history, the line might as well have been ‘We Are Worldly’ or ‘We Are Wondrous.’
Considered one of world’s best skaters over 1000m, disaster occurred for Morrison at the 2013 Canadian trials when he clipped his own skates and fell just metres from the finish line. An Olympic spot in the distance vanished. Months later in Sochi, Junio selflessly offered Morrison his 1000m berth. The gesture made international headlines.
After graciously accepting Junio’s offer, Morrison, of course, skated to a gutsy silver medal in 1min 8.43sec, just four hundredths of a second from gold. No one was happier than Junio, while Morrison began campaigning for his teammate as Closing Ceremonies flag bearer.
“It’s just such a Canadian story, right?” Morrison told the Calgary Herald. “It’s something everyone can relate to.”
After adding a 1500m bronze medal in Sochi to raise his career Olympic medal haul to four over three Olympics to date—matching Canadian legend Gaetan Boucher—it secured a place for Morrison among the most respected and decorated speed skaters in the world.
Raised in the northeastern BC town of Fort St. John, Morrison began skating at age three on an outdoor track. A self-described ‘speed freak,’ he grew up chasing older brother Jay, as the pair skated for the Fort St. John Elks Speed Skating Club under coach Jerry Vopicka. Inspired by the example of Fort St. John’s first Olympian, skater Linda Johnson-Blair, the two ‘Blade Brothers’ quickly rose up the junior Canadian ranks.
“I don’t really think I’d be where I am today without my brother,” Morrison told the CBC. “He was always the guy I chased down. I always wanted to be as fast as him.”
While Jay became Canadian junior champion from 2001-03, Denny, who was skating both short and long track then, won the 2003 Canadian junior short track title. That year, both finished in the top-ten at the junior world championships in Japan. They moved to Calgary to train under national coach Marcel Lacroix and Denny followed in Jay’s footsteps by winning the 2004 Canadian junior title.
Denny’s breakthrough came a year later, when he beat Jay in a race for the first time, smashing a Canadian record in the process. He would break that record twice more within a month and found himself at the 2006 Olympics in Torino. There he helped Canada to a team pursuit silver. Four years later in Vancouver, he upgraded that pursuit medal to gold.
Still actively competing at the highest level, Denny’s career resume now stands among the most impressive in the sport. Besides landing on the World Cup podium dozens of times, he became 1500m world champion in 2008 and 2012. A week after the 2008 title, he established a 1500m world record of 1min 42.01sec. In 2009, the Morrison brothers achieved a lifelong dream by winning a World Cup gold medal together in team pursuit. More recently, Denny won two silver medals (1500m and team pursuit) at the 2015 world championships in Heerenveen, Netherlands to bring his career world championship medal total to an even dozen. He plans to compete for Canada at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.