After numerous podium finishes at the World Cups last season, including two gold medals, and finishing the season as world champion and world record holder in the 1500m, expectations for the Fall World Cups were high for Denny Morrison. Not completely comfortable on new skates, however, Morrison gave a slower start to his season than might have been expected based on his previous results. At the first three World Cups of the season, in Berlin, Heerenveen and Changchun, he did not make the podium, but after some changes to his equipment, Morrison gradually managed better performances at the World Cup in Nagano and after that at the Canadian Single Distances Championships in Richmond. Confident about his equipment now, Morrison reflects on his first half of the season and looks forward to the second half.
By Jolanda Abbes
Even though Denny Morrison continuously manages to improve the way he finishes his seasons, with a world record and a victory in the 1500m at the World Single Distances Championships at the end of the previous season as absolute highlights thus far, his last few seasons have not started out all that promising. Last year, for example, he started out with a fall and a disqualification at the first two World Cups, and this season didn’t start out the way he had hoped for either: at the first three World Cups Morrison did not succeed in claiming any medals. Not entirely comfortable yet on new equipment, he finished 8th (1:46.59) and 6th (1:09.59) in respectively the 1500m and 1000m at the first World Cup, in Berlin; distances in which is he considered to be among the fastest skaters in the world.
A week later, in Heerenveen, Morrison managed slightly better races, and especially in his 1500m he seemed to be on track towards a good time, but when he came close to falling after he had kicked himself, he had to settle for a 19th place (1:48.97) in this distance. In the 1000m he finished 7th (1:09.45). Morrison reflects on the first two World Cups of the season: “These competitions were an eye opener for me. I was on new equipment for all of my on-ice training leading up to these competitions, and these World Cups were the first real test for me to see how I was actually performing on them. I knew after those races it wasn't a good change.”
After skipping the World Cup in Moscow, Morrison traveled to Asia for the Sprint World Cups in Changchun and Nagano, where he initially managed about the same results as in Europe. In Changchun he finished 6th (1:10.72) and 7th (1:10.85) in the 1000m. “After changing back to my blades from last season and still getting disappointing results again in China, I decided to make some more changes. Another new blade setup and a drastically changed offset, and I was feeling better again, but still not completely comfortable in the corners. That said, I could finally get some speed out of my turns, but I know there is room for improvement – I'm just getting the ball rolling.” After these changes, results started to pick up, and at the World Cup in Nagano, just one week later, Morrison medaled in both 1000m’s: silver (1:09.40) and bronze (1:09.23). Morrison looks back satisfied: “In the 1000m races in Japan I was much happier with the way I skated. My results were relatively better too, as I beat Kyou-Hyuk Lee the first day, and was within a few tenths of him and Shani Davis the second day.”
Finally feeling confident about his equipment, Morrison was able to completely focus on his technique at the Canadian Single Distances Championships, that took place in Richmond December 27-31. It was the first official competition at the Richmond Olympic Oval, that will be the venue of the long track speed skating events at the Olympic Games in 2010, and Morrison skated to some good results: “Everything was good at the Canadian Single Distances Championships, except for my 1000m race. I felt like my 500m races were especially coming around finally. The ice in Richmond was significantly slower than in Japan, yet I skated season best 500m races.” In the 500m, on the first day of competition, Morrison skated to a 35.60 (after a 9.95 opener, his first sub 10 second opener this season) and a 35.77, good for a 2nd and 4th place and an overall bronze medal in the 500m.
On the second day of the Canadian Single Distances Championships, Morrison raced to a silver medal in the 5000m, a distance in which he had not come to very impressive results so far this season: “The 5000m race in Richmond was a pretty good race for me. I didn't want to open too fast, so was fairly conservative on the first lap with a 34+ second lap, then a 33 second lap. Both much slower laps than I was hoping for. I wasn't concerned though and finished the remainder of my laps on 31's, and was 2nd by 4 seconds. I think there is plenty of room for improvement there.” Morrison finished in 6:43.37, where gold-medalist Lucas Makowsky skated 6:39.32. Contrary to Morrison, however, Makowsky opened with two 31 second laps, and maintained that pace until the end of his race.
On the third day of competition, Morrison finished first in the before-mentioned 1000m, a race he was not at all satisfied with, despite his victory. Morrison finished in 1:10.72, only .27 seconds faster than silver-medalist Kyle Parrott. Morrison reflects: “It was a worse 1000m race than any I've done this season, probably any in the last three seasons. It was a good reminder for me to re-focus, and I did a much better job at that in the 1500m.” In this 1500m, that was skated the next day, Morrison crushed his competitors and finished first in 1:47.45, 1.25 seconds faster than Makowsky, who took the silver medal. Morrison looks back: “The 1500m was a very good turnaround from the day before, and gave me confidence on my new equipment setup. This 1500m was as good or better than the 1500m race I was on in Heerenveen – before I kicked myself and almost fell. Still probably the best 1500m race for me this season.”
With four medals after four days of races, Morrison can look back on a successful competition in Richmond. He finished first for the overall sprint title (500m and 1000m combined), and had a good shot at winning the All-round title as well (500m, 1500m, 5000m and 10k combined), but since he was already prequalified for the World All-round Championships anyway, Morrison decided to let the 10k pass him by. Even when not all races went as well as he had hoped for, overall this competition was a step up from the World Cup in Japan, which in its turn was a step up from the first World Cups of the season, in Europe and China. It should come as no surprise Morrison considers his 1000m to be the worst distance he skated in Richmond: “I was rushing and running and would have had a faster time with running shoes on...” The 1500m, on the other hand, was the most satisfactory race for him: “Because I was worried about my skates and everything that had happened earlier in the season and because of my bad performance in the 1000m the day before, I prepared for my 1500m race like it was a World Championship race and it led to a good result.”
Thanks to his good results at the Canadian Single Distances Championships, Morrison qualified for every possible race and event for the remainder of the season, except for the 10k in Heerenveen, which will keep all doors open for him in terms of where he will be racing. First stop, however, will be the World Sprint Championships in Moscow, that will take place this weekend, January 17-18. Confident about his equipment now, Morrison is looking forward to whatever the rest of the season will bring: “I’m excited and looking forward to racing some more good races on a bigger stage this time.”
Photo credits: DESGphoto/Lars Hagen