Even though the Olympics in Vancouver were a disappointment for Denny Morrison in terms of his individual performances in the 1000m and 1500m and the aftermath in the media shortly thereafter, he showed some remarkable resilience when he helped Team Canada win Olympic Gold in the Team Pursuit just a few days later. But that was then, and this is now. With his 1:08.46 in the 1000m at the Fall World Cup Trials in Calgary last month, Morrison gave a good start to this post-Olympic season, and as a result he is confidently looking forward to what is to come. But not before looking back one last time. In his own words, Morrison reflects on the two days of Olympic Team Pursuit racing, that gave an otherwise clouded Olympics a gold lining after all.
By Denny Morrison
My motivation to represent my country was crushed by the media a few days earlier, after I “failed” in the 1500m. I went to the line of the quarterfinal Team Pursuit race with a fairly bad attitude and the perspective that, if we lost the first round, my Olympics would finally be over. I’ve never raced in such a poor mental state before. That said, it’s a testament to how well prepared my coach and support staff actually had me. When I went to the line in the Team Pursuit, bleak outlook and all, the autopilot light flicked on and I just zoned in on accomplishing my task for the team in that quarterfinal race. I wasn’t sure what to expect in this race against Italy. This was the same team we lost to in 2006 in the finals and I didn’t want to underestimate them. With the crowd on our side, it was easy to tell we were gaining a big lead early in the race. Marcel held a lap board to show us if we were ahead or behind and by how much. At first glance, I wasn’t sure if he’d made a mistake or not! I was surprised we had developed such a lead so quickly. Exiting the turn in the last few laps of the race we were able to see Italy entering the opposite turn ahead of us, so we shut it down to save a bit of energy for the next round. In hindsight, had we finished this race hard, I’m confident we could have set an Olympic record that would have remained standing today. I’m still happy with the outcome however.
We only had about 85 minutes between the quarter- and semifinal, and because of the Olympic record in the first round, I had to do a urine test between the races. (I could have waited until after the second round, but wouldn’t have been able to go to the bathroom at all until after that race). So it was a bit of a rush getting changed, getting warmed down, eating, hurrying through a urine test when you’re more nervous than ever, then warming up again, changing and hustling back onto the ice for round 2! It may have been a blessing in disguise however, as it kept me in the moment and didn’t give my mind any time to stray off and get distracted. Like all speed skating races, the Team Pursuit is a race requiring fast laps, but more importantly flat, consistent laps. In the first round, we decided my first pull was a bit too fast and it drained us too much at the end of the race. So the plan was for me to slow down a little. Wait a second! Slow down? In a race!? We’re about to go head-to-head with a faster team than in the quarterfinals. A team that’s leading the overall World Cup points standings right now. And I have to open slower!? But this is how speed skating works. By going a few tenths of a second slower per lap at the start of the race, we saved a few tenths at the end of the race and actually ended up with a faster time, breaking our Olympic record from the quarters.
It’s a pretty interesting feeling. Finishing a day of racing, at the beginning of which you weren’t sure if it would be your last race ever, and just hours later, walking home knowing that tomorrow you will be winning an Olympic medal. Was I too motivated for my individual races? Too excited? Probably both. Questions about my individual races were still plaguing my thoughts, as they continue to do today. I decided I’d take on the Kristina Groves approach and just try to not care so much. That night, I didn’t think about the race, I didn’t visualize. I didn’t worry about what I ate or when, and I didn’t write down my race prep onto a small piece of paper to remind me where I should be doing what and when, broken down into 20 minute increments for the three hours prior to my race. I just asked the guys what time they were warming up at and met them at the oval then.
They say competing is 10% physical and 90% mental. The morning of the Gold Medal Final came and it was difficult not to get too excited. I knew we had a very good shot at beating the US. “But wait, they beat the Dutch in the semi. That’s pretty impressive. I wonder which three guys they are going to use? I wonder how fast they will open? Wait, wait, wait. None of this matters, remember!? Focus on what I have to do. Get the team up to speed, then chill in the back for a few easy laps and then just finish the race. Simple.” These thoughts went through my head about a 100 times that morning. “What should I eat for breakfast? How much? When? When should I snack, when should I .... Doesn’t matter. Just get me to the line of that race. I’m prepared. I just wanna do it!” Over and over, but always able to refocus. Even as we were on-ice, warming up as a team right before the race, an equally anxious and excited Marcel approached us to give us a bunch of last minute reminders and I eventually cut him off, grabbed his shoulders and said: “Marcel, we got this!” An abbreviated way of saying: “Marcel, you’ve done an amazing job. We couldn’t be any more prepared for this race and this moment. We are focused. We are ready. Let us handle this part of it.”
Click on photo to watch a short video of the Team Pursuit final
I remember how silent the building was as we approached the start line. The ever present silence behind the noise. It was calming. My heart rate is higher and I’m more nervous now when I watch the video of the race than I was at that moment, standing there in front of a silent room of 8000 people. The gun went, and just as I kept reminding myself, everything fell into place. I attacked the first lap slightly more than in the semi and built up a 0.7 lead on the US. The crowd was going insane. It’s the first time I’ve experienced a building louder than the Thialf. Every half lap, the roar would come down a bit as the crowd waited to react to the split times. I could feel the emotion of the crowd’s cheer change when we gained time vs lost time. Marcel’s lap board was there to remind us once per lap how we were doing, but the crowd told the story just as well. As I exchanged leads and Lucas took over, I realized very quickly that I was already more fatigued at this point of the race than I had been in either of the races the day before. “Focus on what you’re doing!” I relaxed a bit more in the back of the pack and although I could feel the pace slowing a bit, as Giroux gave Lucas a couple of pushes down the straight away, I knew I had to save what I had for my final pull. By the time Lucas exchanged, my legs were already feeling like they had recovered some from my pull.
That was until Giroux took over and jammed a corner which almost dropped both Lucas and I. I love watching the video of this part of the race, because I believe this is where we as a team won the race. With the noise in the building, communication was impossible, so Giroux had to attack the turn as hard as he could while still having the knowledge from practicing with us so much to know how much was too much, and how much was just enough. I struggled to anticipate his attack and Lucas, who’d just finished his pull, had to put in a big effort to stay on. This is why I love watching it on video so much. Because none of us hesitate. None of us give up or fall off the back. And best of all, we all stayed perfectly in sync throughout it. The crowd’s volume reached a new peak when Giroux’s attack brought our lap times back down and we hit a lap that was 0.01 faster than the US, who was now within 0.4 of us. Of course I wasn’t aware of how close our laps were at the time, but as we skated past the two laps remaining mark the crowd’s ever increasing roar and Marcel’s ever erratic arm swinging gave a pretty good hint. I took over the lead from Giroux with just under two laps to go, and immediately felt that second wave of lactic acid burning through my legs. Again, we had prepared for this, and the plan kicked in. I broke the wind up front, giving everything I had while remaining calm and smooth and easy to follow. Lucas, Giroux and I continued to stay perfectly in sync while simultaneously dipping into our final energy reserves to push one another through to the finish of the race. We crossed the line side-by-side-by-side, winning Gold.
"My only regret from the Olympics was not climbing into the crowd with my skates on to give my parents a hug after winning Gold."
Photo credits: Photo 1 and 2: Jeff Bough Photo 4: Petra Abbes Photo 5: Julie Morrison
Photo 1 and 2: Jeff Bough
Photo 4: Petra Abbes
Photo 5: Julie Morrison