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Denny Morrison and Richard MacLennan: summer of 2011 – Part 1

This summer has been different from other summers for the Canadian sprint team. Because the roof of the Olympic Oval in Calgary was under repair, they’ve been spending a considerable amount of time in the US; first for cycling camps, and then for on-ice training in Salt Lake City. The Canadian sprint team consists of veterans like Denny Morrison and Jamie Gregg, who have been on the national team for years, and fairly new additions like Richard MacLennan and Gilmore Junio, who look back on their first or second year on the World Cup circuit. Speedskating-online talked to Morrison and MacLennan about their past season, summer training, cycling, and their rookie year.

By Jolanda Abbes

Canadian sprint team in Montana

After the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, training groups in Canada were re-arranged into a sprint team and an all-round team. Dutchman Bart Schouten was hired to train the sprint team with Mike Crowe, and together they’ve been shaping a new sprint team, that has been described as a team consisting of “diamonds in the rough”. Among the athletes on the sprint team are long-time veterans like Denny Morrison, Olympic silver-medalist in Torino and gold-medalist in Vancouver in the Team Pursuit, and fairly new faces like Richard MacLennan, who looks back on his first season as a senior.

Both Morrison and MacLennan have been experiencing what may be described as a typical post-Olympic year this past season. This season is often considered to be a building season towards the next Olympic Games and on top of that some athletes find it hard to find motivation again so soon after the Olympics. Consequently, sometimes results during this post-Olympic season may be somewhat disappointing. MacLennan: “Last season was a bit of a building season for me. I felt as though I didn't do enough work on certain things during the summer, and it seemed to show up in a lot of my racing. Although it was my first year doing all of the World Cups, I would have liked to have placed better overall, and made World Championships.” MacLennan’s best results last season were two bronze medals in the 1000m B group in Changchun, in December, though he did end up skating several of his races in the A group as well.

Richard MacLennan

Morrison’s 2010-2011 season was disappointing for him as well, although he admits to the fact that there had been a serious lack of training during the 2010 summer. He did manage an occasional podium finish at the Word Cups, but at the World Single Distances Championships in Inzell in March he finished sixth and fifth in respectively the 1500m and 1000m, which are usually considered to be his signature distances: “My last season was a wash. I wasn't motivated to train following the Olympics, and was enjoying a physical and mental break from speed skating. I never started speed skating specific training until July, and even then it was intermittent with no commitment, as I would take time off whenever I felt like it. I never stepped back on the ice until late-August. All in all, last season served as a wake up call that I do need to train in the summer if I want to do well. Even with the lack of training, I was still frustrated with my results most of the season and especially at WSD because the field of competitors wasn't as strong as it has been in the past and I think I should have been able to place better, even given the circumstances. My results last season are fresh motivation for the upcoming seasons though. I'm excited to train again!”

Denny Morrison

For the Canadian sprinters to be competitive again this upcoming season, Schouten and Crowe have put together a strict training program, in which their different coaching backgrounds are combined in the best possible way. MacLennan: “Bart really brings a different but good approach to skating, and for me being a sprinter, I usually have sprint coaches. Bart's coached guys like Bob de Jong and Chad Hedrick, so it's cool to see what worked for them while he was coaching them. Then I just try to apply it to my skating.”

On top of that, the skaters themselves try to push each other to get better by taking advantage of their different backgrounds too, as MacLennan explains: “We work towards each other’s strengths. Denny's come from more of a mid/long distance background, as I am from more of a mid/sprint background. So I try to work off of his distance ability while he might try to use my sprint speed to his advantage.” And when asked more specifically about Morrison’s strengths as a speed skater, MacLennan adds: “I feel like Denny's very good at pushing himself, and I feel as though he does a really good job of balancing his personal life and his skating life. It's good to be around someone who is so well motivated and strong!” In return, Morrison is confident his young teammate is working towards a successful speed skating career: “Richard's strength is in his size, his power, and his attitude. He is built like Jeremy Wotherspoon, but doesn't quite skate like him yet. I can see he's on the right track however, and if he continues the way he's going, the results will follow.”

Canadian Sprint Team in Penticton 

It is obvious that despite the differences in experience and results, Morrison and MacLennan can benefit from working together on the same team. Where MacLennan is currently in his third year on the national team, Morrison has a few more years under his belt: “My first Junior Worlds was in 2001, but I never officially made the national team until the completion of the 2005 season.” After that, his rise to the top was fast, with successes at the World Cups and World Championships, crowned with the world title and a world record (1:42.01) in the 1500m at the end of the 2007/2008 season and an Olympic gold medal in the Team Pursuit in Vancouver in 2010. But despite the fact that it’s been a while back for him, Morrison still clearly remembers his very first World Cup race: “My rookie season was in 2004, traveling to non-other than Heerenveen to compete in the Thialf for my first World Cup. I was 18 at the time and ended up 7th in the 1500m B group with about a 1:50. Then I puked on the inside track after my race.” MacLennan’s rookie year on the World Cup circuit was the 2009/2010 season, and he looks back with a smile when he describes an initiation prank his teammates made him go through: “For my rookie initiation, Christina Groves was having dinner with some family friends Heerenveen. She was dating Scott Maw at the time, and her family friends had never met Scott. He was still at the oval and was due to arrive at the dinner any minute, so I had to go and pretend to be Scott, and introduce myself to everyone at the table. So I walked up, said sorry for being late and introduced myself as Scott while Chirstina started scrambling trying to tell them that I was actually Richard. Then after shaking everyone’s hands, told everyone that I couldn't stick around, and just walked away. I was given a standing ovation from the Canada team...”

Curious how Morrison and MacLennan spent their summer training in the US? Or do you want to know more about their role models in cycling, the 24 Hours Of Adrenaline mountain bike race Morrison participated in this summer, or how fast MacLennan biked downhill at a training camp in Penticton? Click here to read part 2 of this story!

Photo 1: submitted by Gilmore Junio
Photo 2 and 3:
DESGphoto/Lars Hagen
Video: Gilmore Junio