Canadian Junio adjusting to new role as Olympic hero

Canada's Denny Morrison celebrates on the podium during the men's speed skating 1,000-metre at the...

Canada's Denny Morrison celebrates on the podium during the men's speed skating 1,000-metre at the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 12, 2014. (AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE)

STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:11 AM ET

SOCHI, RUSSIA - Gilmore Junio is trying hard to catch his breath, take it all in, and understand his newfound status as an Olympic celebrity.

And an Olympic hero.

One day he was just another nameless, faceless Canadian dressed in red in the Athlete's Village. Now, everybody wants to shake his hand, congratulate him, tell him how proud they are of him.

"It's been crazy," said Junio, the speed skater who relinquished his place in the men's 1,000-metre race, which enabled Denny Morrison to compete and win an unexpected silver medal.

"I didn't win the medal," said Junio who has gone from unknown to known in less than a day. "The way people have responded is pretty insane and very overwhelming, really. There's been so much stuff on social media. My Twitter account has like tripled. It's been all positive. They keep telling me how proud they are of me and how Canadian a gesture it was."

Junio didn't have to be convinced to step away when the subject was first brought to him by the Canadian coaching staff. He knew deep down that Morrison, who fell in the Canadian Olympic trials thus losing his place in the event, was the better choice.

The two athletes train together. "I owe almost everything I have in speed skating to Denny," he said. "I had no problem making this decision."

The hardest part was telling his father. His parents travelled from Calgary to Sochi to watch their son race. They saw him in the 500-metres event. They expected to see him in the 1,000.

"My dad was upset when I told him," said Junio. "We talked through it. He didn't really understand at first what I was doing but once I explained it all to him, it seemed like he was okay with it. Or sort of okay with it.

"Once they understood, they were proud of me. And then they watched the race with Denny's parents. After, they were all celebrating together. That was something. Now they understand why I did what I did."

Since winning the medal, Morrison has made certain Junio that receives full credit for his part in the result and has started -- along with others in Canada -- a campaign to have Junio be the Canadian flagbearer at the closing ceremony next Sunday.

"Denny's been pushing for that," said Junio. "I'm super flattered by that. It's not something you would ever think about. There have been lots of great Canadian results already and I'm sure there will be many more. Denny still has to skate in the 1,500M and Team Pursuit and the way he's going, he might wind up with three medals. That's not impossible."

And if somehow that ends up being the case, maybe Canada could have co-flagbearers to end these Games.

For his part, Junio still can't believe the attention he's gotten internationally but mostly in Canada, for his selfless gesture.

"I got to talk to Steve Yzerman, one of heroes growing up," he said. "A number of players from the women's hockey team came up and wanted to meet me. The figure skaters, same thing. Normally, I wouldn't be recognized at all.

"Before this, it was pretty quiet in the village.

"It still feels weird," said Junio, who went from minor hockey to short-track speed skating, severely injured his back, and wound up in long track. "I set out to win a medal here (in the 500). That was my goal. It didn't turn out that way. But to have all these people wanting to talk to you, and hearing what people are saying about you, it's pretty flattering.

"What people don't understand is, this is an individual sport but we're still a team. We look out for each other. I trained four years to get here, training with Denny every day in Calgary. I owe a lot to Denny. I don't think I'd be here without him."

And Morrison wouldn't have been on the podium or even in the race without the 23-year-old Junio, who hadn't heard from Prime Minister Harper personally but understood a statement from the PM's office had been issued. He did see chef de mission, Steve Podborski, at Canada House and they took exchanged a hearty handshake.

"He told me 'You did a great thing.' That was pretty special to hear."

steve.simmons@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/simmonssteve


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