Denny Morrison building off 'small victories' as national team trials loom
Speedskater continues comeback from injury, stroke as 4-day event kicks off Thursday in Calgary
Three photos on Denny Morrison's cellphone are of him jumping over a rocky crevasse on top of a mountain.
Two photos depict the speedskater's resolve to attempt it. The third is of him sticking the landing, with a little more weight on his left leg than his right.
It's a pictorial metaphor for Morrison's comeback from a horrific motorcycle accident in 2015 — a broken right leg just one of multiple injuries — followed by a stroke in 2016.
"It takes a certain amount of courage and faith and trust in yourself there," the four-time Olympic medallist said Monday after scrolling through those photos.
Coming back for his team
But what the photos don't show is Morrison was atop that Utah mountain this summer with his coach and teammates. And Morrison says this comeback is about much more than himself.
He wants to compete February in his fourth Winter Olympics to express everything he, his wife Josie, his coaches, his teammates and his medical support team have invested in his return to racing.
"Back in 2010, I wanted to win three gold medals all for me," Morrison said. "Now, I want to do this for the team, almost as a thank you. They're the ones bringing me back."
The 32-year-old from Fort St. John, B.C., is coming off his most "normal" off-season training since 2014, when he won a silver in the 1,000 metres and a bronze medal in the 1,500 at the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
First 'normal' off-season since 2014
Morrison had fallen in the 1,000 metres at Olympic trials, but teammate Gilmore Junio vacated his spot in the distance so Morrison could race it in Sochi.
Morrison won team pursuit gold in 2010 with Lucas Makowsky and Mathieu Giroux, as well as a team pursuit silver in 2006.
It's not lost on Morrison that his some of greatest successes in long-track speedskating have come via assists from others. The support he's received in what seemed an improbable comeback made that feeling more acute.
"Anything I do on the ice, any accomplishment I make, is celebrated not only with my teammates, but my support staff," Morrison said.
"Every one of them who have been a part of my comeback gets to celebrate with me."
Morrison's motorcycle wreck in May, 2015 wiped out an entire season of racing. His stroke less than a year later meant he couldn't push his heart rate to the maximum until a month out from trials.
Morrison raced some World Cups last winter, but didn't contend for the podium.
With a productive off-season under his belt, Morrison wants to see how fast he can go at the national team trials starting Thursday at the Olympic Oval in Calgary.
The four-day trials determine the 20 speedskaters racing for Canada in this season's first four World Cups, including a stop Dec. 1-3 in Calgary.
Calgary's Ted-Jan Bloemen, Ottawa's Ivanie Blondin, Vincent de Haitre of Cumberland, Ont., Olivier Jean of Lachenaie, Que., and Winnipeg's Heather McLean are already on the World Cup team because they finished in the top five in last season's world single distance championship.
There's more on the line than World Cup medals. Speedskaters can secure berths on the Canadian Olympic team if they win a medal, or are ranked in the top five after the four World Cups.
Morrison sees trials as one of his many milestones en route to Pyeongchang, South Korea.
The first was getting his broken leg over his bike to ride around his neighbourhood after his crash, when he couldn't even walk without crutches.
"If I didn't make the decision to come back, none of these small victories would have been realized," Morrison said.
"If the small victory becomes qualifying for World Cups, maybe getting World Cup medals, qualifying for the Olympics, maybe an Olympic medal, that's where the small victory staircase leads to.
"I hope this weekend will prove to be another small victory. One of probably a hundred thousand or more."