Secret weapon pays off for speed skaters

By PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency


Mathieu Giroux, Lucas Makowsky and Denny Morrison of Canada win the gold medal in the speed skating men's pursuit of the Olympic at Richmond Olympic Oval, Richmond, B.C., on Saturday, Feb. 27. (MARTIN CHEVALIER/QMI AGENCY)

RICHMOND, B.C. — The plan was hatched some three years ago. A secret weapon, if you will, designed to win a gold medal on the second-last day of the Vancouver Winter Games.

Saturday at the Richmond Oval, the Canadians pulled it out, hitting the top of the podium and probably altering speed skating’s pursuit event for good.

“You’re going to see everybody doing it on team pursuits from now on,” Denny Morrison of Fort St. John, B.C., predicted. “The cat’s out of the bag, I guess.”

The secret weapon, practised by the Canadian men’s team for the last three years but kept tightly under wraps, involves skaters giving each other a subtle push from behind at critical times in the eight-lap race.

It’s so subtle, you only notice it in slow motion replays. A hand to the butt — with dramatic results.

“It saved our butt,” coach Marcel Lacroix said. “That gold medal was our push.”

The Canadians — Morrison, Regina’s Lucas Makowsky and Mathieu Giroux of Montreal — hadn’t used the technique at any World Cups or world championships, saving it for this day.

Even in practice runs at their training base in Calgary, they’d wait until nobody was at the oval before working on it. It’s a bit risky, in that it can throw a skater off balance.

Saturday, it propelled the threesome to a win over the U.S. in the gold-medal final.

The margin of victory, .21 seconds. The difference it made in defining these Games for the men’s team: Massive.

Particularly for Morrison, coming off disappointing races in his individual events and a minor meltdown in which he publicly questioned his coaching, his program and even his teammates.

One apology and one gold medal later, all should be forgiven.

“A bit of a roller-coaster of emotions,” is how Morrison described his Games. “I like the conclusion the best. A story with a good ending, and turmoil in between. It’s awesome, man. To come away with gold, as a team, there’s no better way to finish off the Olympics for us.”

It was the first medal by the men, fifth overall for the long-track team.

The boys are hoping it provides a little foreshadowing for that other Canada-U.S. clash Sunday.

For good measure, Morrison even donned a Team Canada hockey jersey for his victory lap.

“I thought it’d be cool,” he said. “It’s a Canadian symbol. There’s no better way to wear the flag than a Canadian hockey jersey.”

“We had a nice Canada-U.S. battle on the ice,” Makowsky chipped in. “We’ll see another and, hopefully, we get the same result.”

Unlike the women, who lost their pursuit quarter-final, Morrison and Co. weren’t favoured to win gold. Ranked third, a bronze was seen by many as their best bet.

But they skated flawlessly in reaching the final, twice breaking the Olympic record, before turning in yesterday’s near-perfect race, everything mapped out in advance, like who’ll lead the way, when, and for how long — and when to use “the push.”

“It’s definitely not something you can pick up overnight. That’s why we’ve been practising it,” Makowsky said. “And pulling it out when we needed to, to make it count.”

“It was just enough,” Giroux said.

The only thing they messed up was their ill-timed leap onto the top of the podium for the medal ceremony.

“I was too late, I think,” Morrison said.

No, he wasn’t, actually.

This time, Denny Morrison was right on time.

POLL