Canada's Denny Morrison wins bronze in 1,500m

TED WYMAN, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 3:03 PM ET

SOCHI, RUSSIA - Eight years of Olympic disappointment have given way to three days of almost surreal glory for Canadian speed skater Denny Morrison.

The 28-year-old from Fort St. John, B.C., won his second medal in the past three days Saturday, this time taking a bronze in the long track 1,500-metres.

Just Wednesday, he won his first individual Olympic medal -- a silver -- in the 1,000 after Gilmore Junio gave up his spot in the race to let his teammate skate instead.

That was a great story in itself. Now it's almost too good to be true.

"It's the best week of my life, man," Morrison said after skating a time of 1:45.22 and finishing two-tenths of a second off the lead.

"I liken it to a bit of a fairy tale, something I've been dreaming about since Turin."

Morrison competed in his first Olympics in Turin in 2006 and finished off the podium in the individual events. The same happened in Vancouver.

But a silver medal in 2006 and gold in 2010 in the team pursuit were not enough to quench his thirst for individual success.

He came into these Olympics with a different mindset, feeling less pressure, not dealing with the weight of expectations, and the results came quickly.

"I'm not sure if he's a better skater than in 2006 or 2010," his coach, Bart Schouten, said. "What he did here was keep it together. He was mentally tough and strong. He grew up.

"He had a better approach, he's matured a lot. He's really made big steps. He was in a really good state of mind."

Morrison has an excellent chance of winning a third medal next Saturday in the team pursuit.

That would be an incredible feat, when you consider where he was just a year ago. He broke the fibula in his left leg while cross country skiing just before Christmas of 2012 and had a long rehab just to get back on skates.

He said he never felt like it was time to quit or that the injury would prevent him from one day realizing the dream.

"The broken leg almost acted as re-motivation to come back as the underdog," he said.

Given the circumstances, an Olympic medal seemed a bit far-fetched but Morrison showed guts in preparing for Sochi and they were on full display in his races this week.

"He showed so much heart," Canadian chef de mission Steve Podborski said. "It's such a hard, difficult thing to skate that hard for that long and the track is apparently quite slow so you can't ever really take a break. He just showed true grit.

"He certainly has made a name for himself. He's come back from the broken leg and all the other tribulations and he's really shown the true colours. It's fantastic, a great story. This is a true example of how you have to continually get past your disappointments. For him, these are great victories."

Morrison was in gold-medal medal position for a while and held onto silver until the very last pair of skaters went around the track. Zbigniew Brodka of Poland won the gold medal, while Koen Verweij of The Netherlands came in second, just three one-thousandths of a second behind.

" I think that the performance in the 1,000-metre kind of gave me the confidence," Morrison said. "I remember crossing the line and feeling like I had more in the tank, like I can do another lap. That gave me the confidence today to do the plan I was talking about, to go out hard, get a big gap, get ahead of these guys. I know they're going to finish strong, so I knew I wanted to make that gap as big as possible and not be afraid of hurting the last lap. Just go for it."

Morrison said there a bit more to savour about winning this bronze than the first medal on Wednesday. So much of the credit for that medal was shared with Junio, who unselfishly gave up his spot in the race.

When that one was over, Morrison could scarcely comprehend what had happened.

"The 1,000 I just couldn't even believe it," he said. "I felt so lucky to have the opportunity to even skate the 1,000 and then there was this explosion of emotion.

"This time it felt more like a World Cup, I felt like I could get it. I just wanted to celebrate a little bit calmer this time."

Perhaps that's a kind of calm that comes from achieving success. From knowing how all the years of training and preparation had finally paid off. From being a winner.

SPLIT THE DIFFERENCE?

Denny Morrison has a theory as to how he can turn his bronze and silver medals into gold.

"I think that if there was a 1,250-metre race, I would be dominant," Morrison said. "The 1,000, for me, is a little bit too short but my last lap is really good because I'm more of a 1,500-metre skater compared to some of the 500-metre guys.

"The 1,500 metre, I go out fast and then die off compared to the 5K guys who skate it."

Morrison did all right with the Olympic regulation distances, winning a silver medal in the 1,000M and bronze in the 1,500M after he came perilously close to not qualifying for the individual events at the Olympics at all.

"Earning this spot in the 1,500 was a bit of a challenge itself," he said. "I never made it in the 500, I never tried in the 5K, and then I fell in the 1,000. So the 1,500 was my last shot at even making the Olympics."

Fortunately, he did make it and, with a little help from teammate Gilmore Junio, who gave him a spot in the 1,000, Morrison has parlayed what might have been a disappointing season into a pair of Olympic medals.

"Definitely all seems worth it," he said.

ted.wyman@sunmedia.ca

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