SOCHI, Russia — All around Denny Morrison there was chaos yet he was an oasis of calm, smoothly skating off into the Sochi night with another Olympic medal tucked in his pocket.
As the men’s 1,500-metre long-track speedskating event Saturday saw subplot upon subplot – the United States team imploding from within, the Russians bristling at their ongoing struggles and the Netherlands battling disbelief that they had failed to win yet another gold – Morrison might have been the most content man in the Adler Arena, save for shock champion Zbigniew Brodka of Poland.
“I was beginning to wonder about the Olympics,” Morrison said.
He was beginning to wonder with good reason. At 28, Morrison has not been at the kind of elite level he took into the Vancouver Olympics, so Saturday’s medal and the silver he snatched in the 1,000 metres have come as major surprises.
Success is all the sweeter when it is least expected and Morrison, freed of the burden of expectation that hamstrung him in 2010, has shone in Sochi as others have faltered around him.
It wasn’t meant to be like this but he will take it, gleefully. The medals, the glory, should have come at the Richmond Olympic Oval four years ago, back when he came in as a world champion but couldn’t get his legs going and could finish no better than ninth in the individual events. Morrison did leave Vancouver with a gold medal in the men’s team pursuit, but it didn’t erase away the hurt of underachieving in the individual events.
“All this makes it worth it," he said. “In 2008 I was world champion and then we had Vancouver and I was beginning to wonder that maybe I got the wrong schedule. So it's nice to have some hardware in the Olympics."
Morrison carries the look of a man who can scarcely believe the way his luck has turned after being burdened for so long by the disappointment of Vancouver. He would not even have raced in the 1,000 if not for the generosity of teammate Gilmore Junio, who ceded his place when Morrison fell in the Canadian Olympic trials, believing his teammate had a better chance of a medal.
“This is different from the 1,000," said Morrison. "I felt so lucky to even be competing. That was an explosion of emotions. This (Saturday’s race) was more that I could get it and I managed to celebrate a bit calmer this time."
Morrison fell short of becoming Canada’s first individual male gold medalist in long track since Gaetan Boucher at Sarajevo in 1984, but this still felt pretty darn good. Skating in the 15th of 20 groups, he scorched into the ousting, besting the time laid down minutes earlier by defending champion Mark Tuitert of the Netherlands and setting a new track record at 1:45:22.
With American world record holder Shani Davis skating two groups later Morrison looked in imminent danger. Yet it was the other contender in Davis’ group, Brodka, a part-time firefighter in his native Poland, who took the lead instead, nudging the Canadian from gold to silver position. Koen Verweij of the Netherlands, skating in the final group, was the only other man who could squeeze ahead of Morrison, giving him the bronze he will long cherish and handing Canada its 12th medal here.
Meanwhile, there was chaos elsewhere. The U.S. team and its coaches were busy apportioning blame for their ongoing disharmony and failure to meet expectations at these Games. Verweij’s silver brought him little solace. He appeared to scream an obscenity as he rounded the track after his race and realized that a cruel three one-thousandths of a second had denied him the moment of a lifetime.
And Morrison was smiling through it all, wearing the satisfied look of a man whom this Olympics has given more than he bargained for.
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