Following a 16-year career as a member of the Canadian long track speed skating team – one that saw him win four Olympic medals and write one of the most remarkable comeback stories in recent memory – Denny Morrison is ready to formally announce that he is officially hanging up his skates.
The 34-year-old product of Fort St. John, B.C. enters retirement as one of the most decorated and inspiring amateur athletes of his generation. Morrison shares the record for most Olympic medals among Canadian male long track speed skaters with the legendary Gaétan Boucher.
Speed Skating Canada is set to honour Morrison at the Olympic Oval on Saturday, February 8 as part of this weekend’s ISU World Cup in Calgary.
An Olympic Legacy
As a 20-year-old at Turin 2006, he won a silver medal as part of the team pursuit squad that included Arne Dankers, Steven Elm, Jason Parker and Justin Warsylewicz. Four years later, he captured team pursuit gold on home soil at Vancouver 2010 with teammates Mathieu Giroux and Lucas Makowsky.
Morrison also won a pair of individual medals at Sochi 2014 – silver in the 1000m and bronze in the 1500m.
The story of sportsmanship behind his medal in the 1000m made international headlines and propelled teammate Gilmore Junio into the limelight. Junio made the unselfish decision to give his spot in the race to Morrison – who failed to qualify for the distance due to a fall at Olympic trials – because he felt it would be best for the team. It was a decision that paid off for Canada after the veteran skated a near flawless race to secure a medal.
An Unmatched Determination
Morrison’s inspiring return to the Olympic stage at PyeongChang 2018 following two serious setbacks – a motorcycle crash and a stroke – was nothing short of incredible. Despite not reaching the podium in his fourth and final Games, simply qualifying for the event remains one of his greatest achievements.
In May 2015, Morrison was involved in a serious motorcycle crash in which he sustained a moderate brain injury, torn ACL and substantive damage to his knee, punctured lung, ruptured liver and kidneys, and a small fracture in the transverse process of his spine. He returned to competition in March 2016 after nearly a year of rehabilitation, however his comeback was short-lived.
A month after his return, Morrison suffered a stroke after completing a 25-day mountain bike tour in the United States. An internal tear in his carotid artery had been caused by the prior motorcycle crash, which led to this delayed stroke. Two stents were surgically implanted in his neck in June 2016 to correct the arterial problem and after additional careful rehab, he began racing again three months later.
In December of that same year, Morrison stepped onto the World Cup podium after winning a team pursuit silver with Ted-Jan Bloeman and Jordan Belchos. Determined to not only return to competitive speed skating, but to qualify for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, Morrison, Bloeman, and Donnelly set a Canadian team pursuit record en route to winning World Cup gold in December 2017, two months before the Olympics.
With hard work and perseverance, Morrison beat the odds and booked his ticket to South Korea at the Canadian Olympic trials in January 2018. At the Games in PyeongChang, he would finish 13th in the 1500m and 7th as part of the team pursuit with Jordan Belchos and Ted-Jan Bloemen.
An Accomplished Career
Morrison was a model of consistency throughout his career on the international stage. He debuted on the World Cup circuit in 2003 and went on to win an impressive 68 medals, including 21 gold, 29 silver and 18 bronze. Fifteen of those World Cup medals were in the team pursuit.
Morrison also won 11 medals (2 gold, 6 silver, 3 bronze) at the World Single Distance Championships, earning the title of World Champion in the 1500m in both 2008 and 2012. He claimed an additional seven medals (3 gold, 3 silver, 1 bronze) at the World Allround Championships, where he finished a career-best 5th overall in 2006 and 2009.
He managed to reach the top-10 overall on four separate occasions at the World Sprint Championships, including a career-high 5th place finish in 2009.
A perennial award winner throughout his career, Morrison was honoured by Speed Skating Canada with the Male Long Track Athlete of the Year award eight times (2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2014, and 2015), one time less than Jeremy Wotherspoon (9), for whom the annual recognition is named.
Morrison is still the Canadian record holder in the 1500m (1:42.01), once a world record, set in 2008 in Calgary, and in the team pursuit (3:36.44), established in Salt Lake City alongside Ted-Jan Bloemen and Ben Donnelly in 2017.
“Working alongside Denny for the past eight years has been an honour,” stated long-time Canadian national team coach Bart Schouten. “It was a pleasure watching him achieve success on the ice, including reaching the Olympic podium in Sochi, and mature into a great person off the ice.” “Denny was dealing exceptionally well with challenges to his health following the 2015 World Single Distance Championships and continued his incredible comeback to Olympic form in time for PyeongChang 2018. Throughout that journey he showed tremendous determination and perseverance through adversity, which are skills that will serve him well as he moves onto the next stage of his life.” – Bart Schouten
DENNY’S THOUGHTS ON RETIREMENT
From falling flat onto my face at a home World Cup in Calgary and getting back up to win World Championships three months later, to returning to skating the fastest times in speed skating history after my life threatening and life perspective altering setbacks; my long career may be remembered for its resiliency through maximal adversity, but what I will remember the most are the people who gave me the chance to make it all happen: the volunteers and coaches.
During my time on the national team, Marcel and Bart had to deal with me for eight years each. They provided motivation, expertise and guidance to an otherwise flaggingly competitive young kid, and their impact has shaped me forever. But it all began with the volunteer coaches in Chetwynd and Fort St. John who got me involved in the sport and inspired me to chase my dreams. These are people who continue to do the same and more for so many young people who get to experience and achieve things they may never have been able to without that parent, of a kid who used to speed skate, who’s stuck around for a lifetime volunteering their time and energy to this incredibly addictive sport.
As Level 5 place judge and timer respectively, my mom and dad have been a part of this volunteer community for even longer than my speed skating career has lasted. They’ve been there to rub my back and legs when my aching muscles and mental capacity for dealing with the anxiety of competition were still developing, keeping me awake at night as a kid. My family supported me every step of the way up to and through four Olympic Games, and everything in-between. I chased my older brother and sister around the track on the cold, dark Fort St. John mornings as well as the days when we’d have to shovel the snow from the outdoor surface before training in the cold, dark Ford St. John evenings; but the calm snow falling under the lights that lit our way remains as one of my favourite memories of speed skating. Growing up in Fort St. John, with the supportive crew around me that I had, gave me all of the tools I needed to become the relentless and resilient athlete that I’m recognized as today.
Being able to recognize the sheer beauty and privilege that was always available in the current moment, even in the most trying of times, translated into my career on the national team, in the form of diamonds. Diamonds come in all shapes and sizes and are formed together under the highest pressure situations on the face of the earth. Diamonds have clear goals, are harder than stone, and sharp on race day. But we diamonds recognized the requirement of thousands of hours of relentless cutting, honing and polishing in order to realize those perfect and brilliant performances on race day. Quitting causes irreparable blemishes in any diamond and making excuses a crack. That said, the diamonds represent everyone on my team from 2010-2014, and furthermore, represent everything that I loved about speed skating. We had some absolutely incredible times together and even though many of us have gone off in different directions, I hold everyone of you in the highest regard.
Then there are the teammates who I’ve spent more time on podiums with than any other group of people. Namely, Shani Davis, Lucas Makowski and Matthieu Giroux. My brother brought me with him onto the national team, and then Shani Davis catapulted me to the top. Following upsetting individual results at the 2010 Olympics, I thought about hanging up my skates right then and there, but it was because of Marcel’s inspiration and all of the work that Matt and Lucas put in, that I was able to be pulled from the gutter. These guys are the reason I am able to call myself an Olympic Champion, and I’ve never shown enough gratitude to them, but I continue to love our story of bringing together a guy from British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Quebec to achieve something truly great for all of Canada. It is amazing what can be accomplished when we all work together.
Looking back, if it wasn’t for my individual failings in Vancouver, I don’t know that I would have learned this profound first hand lesson about the importance of teammates and teamwork in time to have become the person and teammate that I had to become in order to permit the events that unfolded in 2014 to occur. If I wouldn’t have become a better person and a better teammate, I may have never achieved my individual goals…think about that for a second.
Furthermore, there are a ridiculous number of doctors and therapists to thank for repeatedly putting me back together throughout my career, and I hope I’ve shown my appreciation to them for their hard work with me, through my recovery and return to competition and life. It will be my goal moving forward to take on some support role like this for others in the future. I’m currently attending the University of Calgary and will be applying to a number of medical schools around Canada after writing the MCAT this summer and finishing my BSc undergrad the following year.
Thank you to everyone in Canada who has ever supported me or even heard of me over the duration of my career! It’s been an absolute privilege.
- – – Denny Morrison