Denny Morrison crowns season with world title and world record
This season could hardly have ended any better for Denny Morrison. At the last competition of the season he raced to a stunning new world record in the 1500m at the Olympic Oval in Calgary, and the weekend before that he won the world title in the same distance at the World Single Distances Championships in Nagano, beating other medal contenders like Sven Kramer, Shani Davis and Enrico Fabris. Back home in Calgary, Morrison reflects on his 1500m and talks about what it felt like to be crowned World Champion for the very first time.
By Jolanda Abbes
It has been a great season for Denny Morrison. Even though he started out with varying successes at the first two World Cups of the season, he managed to pick himself up again and become more consistent in his performances, resulting in numerous World Cup medals, including two gold ones in the 1000m. On top of that, he won a gold medal in the 500m and a silver medal in the 1500m at the World All-round Championships in Berlin for a sixth place overall. Especially the second half of Morrison’s season was jam packed with competition, as he skated at every competition other than the World Cup in Baselga, but despite his busy schedule he succeeded in medaling at most of the competitions he raced at. Morrison looks back satisfied: “The winter portion of the season went very well for me. I was more consistent than in the Fall, and I was able to step onto the podium at least once every weekend, other than World Sprints, unfortunately.”
After the World Cup Final in Heerenveen, where he finished second overall in the 1000m, Morrison traveled to Nagano for the World Single Distances Championships. Unlike last year he did not compete in the 500m at this competition, and consequently his first distance of the weekend was the 1000m. After a false start he raced to a time of 1:09.42, good for a bronze medal, where gold medalist Shani Davis clocked a time of 1:08.99. Morrison reflects: “The 1000m at the World Single Distances Championships was a disappointing race for me. I think that it being my first race of the weekend – and not having a 500m or two to get me ready – left me a little anxious. Plus the ice wasn't ideal for me for sprints, I think. In the opener the ice was breaking away at the end of my push, a lot, and I lost some efficiency because of that. When I watch the video of the race, I think it all looks good and fast, just as I felt in the race, but when the opener and first lap times came up on the board, I was a little confused."
But despite the confusion about what had happened in the 1000m, Morrison was able to keep it all together and to stay focused on skating a good 1500m the next day. In fact, the disappointing 1000m might even have been of positive influence on the way he approached and skated his 1500m: “Yes, maybe a little. I tried to skate smoother, especially off the start, and in my corners. It gave me a better feel, more even pressure, and extra energy at the end of the race.”
Denny Morrison racing towards his world record in the 1500m
In the 1500m Morrison was paired with Sven Kramer, World All-round Champion and World Champion in the 5k and 10k. Moreover, this season Kramer managed to improve his 1500m considerably, resulting in several medals in this distance at the World Cups, including a gold medal in Heerenveen and a silver medal in Hamar. And at these specific World Cups he accomplished better results than Morrison, so for Morrison Kramer was an opponent to be reckoned with in Nagano.
However, when push really came to shove at what is considered to be one of the most important competitions of the season, Morrison succeeded in beating Kramer by crushing the old track record time of 1:47.87, skated by Ǻdne Søndrål at the Olympic Games in 1998, and racing to a time of 1:45.22, whereas Kramer had to settle for 1:45.32 and a silver medal. Morrison gives a full account of the race that earned him his first world title: “I started in the outer lane, and was paired with Sven, so I knew I could open faster than him. But at the same time, I knew he was opening faster and faster this season. My goal was to try to get behind him on the backstretch in the first lap, but I didn't want to be so close behind him out of the corner that I would run up on him and not be able to set up my next turn. It ended up working out quite well for me, and I went into the second turn of the first lap almost beside him. From here I just tried to continue skating smooth, as I knew he would be coming back on me in the laps to come. After the bell, he raced up the inner inside of me, and I could tell he had more speed than me in the backstretch. I never benefited as much from this draft as people might speculate though. What I did benefit from was the fact that he was ahead of me, and dropping me. This reminded me of when the exact same thing happened at Junior Worlds in Finland, in 2005. In that race Sven beat me, and I didn't want to let that happen again. I had to kick it into a new gear, down the backstretch, and put it all on the line when building my last turn."
Even though Morrison has been on an international 1500m podium before on several occasions, his victory at the World Single Distances Championships was not only his first world title, but it also marked his first international victory in the 1500m, as he has yet to win his first World Cup gold medal in this distance. Being on the podium made him reflect on the other times when he was up there: “I thought it was really cool. I couldn't help but to smile, and when the flags raised and the anthem played, I couldn’t help but to think of many of the other times I've been on the podium with a different country’s anthem playing. Hearing my own made me smile some more.”
What probably made Morrison smile even more, is what happened the weekend after Nagano, when he competed at the Finale competition in Calgary. At the Olympic Oval where he won his first World Cup gold medal in the 1000m a little over a year ago, he skated to a stunning new world record in the 1500m. He crushed the old world record of 1:42.32 shared by Shani Davis and Erben Wennemars, and raced to a new world’s best time of 1:42.01. Moreover, it was a huge improvement of his old personal best time and Canadian record (1:42.76).
However, despite the fact that it was a great race, the preparations for it were far from perfect: “It was difficult coming back from Japan, and not training much for five days, not having a coach around to give me a program, and no support staff anymore.” On top of that, Morrison had been preparing for the race thinking he would start in the outer lane, only to find out an hour before the race that he would actually start inner. But where a situation like this might well have caused him problems in the past, Morrison now seems to have grown mentally, as he showed great resilience by still racing to a time that only two years ago would have sounded completely out of reach.
So all in all it seems fair to say that it has been a great season for Morrison. He consistently managed to medal in the 1000m and 1500m at the World Cups, and surpassed these successes by winning the 1500m in Nagano and skating a world record in the same distance in Calgary. Now with all these great results to look back on, there is one thing that Morrison considers to be his most important improvement over the past season: “My consistency. In how I train, how I warm-up, how I race, and most importantly in the results of those races.”
Still, despite the fact that his 1000m and 1500m are now considered to be among the strongest in the world, Morrison’s long distances are quite a different story: “As a middle distance skater even 5k races often hurt more than they should for me. My 5k at the Canadian Championships for example was a very difficult race for me because I had not practiced for that race at all that season. The 10k was worse. The week before the World All-rounds in Berlin, I came back to Calgary for a week, and trained specifically for the 5k only. This made my 5k in Berlin a much easier race, as I had a plan and a much better idea of how to skate a 5k.” Consequently, at the World All-round Championships Morrison managed to skate a solid 5k, in which he took over ten seconds off of his former personal best track record time in this distance, indicating there might still be a lot more room for improvement in his long distances.
Being able to look back on a season during which he was not only crowned World Champion in the 1500m and raced to a new world record in the same distance, but also managed to improve his 500m considerably, has left Morrison confident about the future. Add a more solid 5k and 10k to the mix and skating a very good overall classification at the World All-rounds might become a realistic possibility. “The fact that I could go home and train for a 5k for one week and feel as good as I did in the race that weekend in Berlin, makes me curious of how well I could possibly do in those races if I actually trained for them a little bit more. What about a lot more? Maybe one day we'll know...”
But this is all speculation for the future. For now, Morrison can take the load off for a while, knowing that he will enter the next season as the reigning World Champion and world record holder in the 1500m. Not a bad starting point for a pre-Olympic year...
Photo 1: Erik Pasman, Schaatsfoto's online
Photo 2 + 3: Arno Hoogveld