SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Canadian Gilmore Junio knew the best chance of ending Dutch domination of the men’s speed skating medals in Sochi was to sit out the 1,000 meters and send in team mate Denny Morrison instead. He made the right call.
Morrison became the first non Dutchman to win a speed skating medal in Sochi when he bagged silver at the Adler Arena on Wednesday.
Morrison had tripped in the Canadian trials and missed out on a spot in the 1,000m.
He was afforded a re-skate but with just 40 minutes break in between, the energy required was lacking and he failed to meet the qualifying mark and had to settle for being first reserve.
It was a moment he described as the most disappointing of his career.
Morrison was resting in the athletes village late on Monday ahead of his 1,500m race at the weekend when a message came through from an unknown number asking if he was up for the additional duties.
“It said, ‘Hey man, are you ready to race the 1,000?’ I just saw the Russian number and thought maybe someone had stolen his phone,” Morrison told reporters of Junio’s offer.
“It was a little bit difficult to just go back saying, ‘Yeah man, I‘m in.'”
So he jumped on his bike to the Sochi Olympic park and checked he was not the victim of a prank.
“We met in person at the Canada Olympic House and his family and my family were there. I was with my mum and his mum was there and it was pretty special,” said Morrison.
”He just told me we needed some medals for this team and historically I had better results than him in the 1,000 so he wanted me to go.
“I was wired the night he told me. I was like, ‘Is this really happening?’ I wanted to race that night. I was pretty wired so I had to go home and listen to some relaxing music.”
Morrison said he was friends with all the other 16 members of the Canadian speed skating team but that Junio was probably now his best friend following the gesture.
Junio, who finished 10th in the 500 meters - his only race in Sochi - was delighted for Morrison.
“I was breathing hard, I have lost my voice and I am so pleased for him,” he added.
The two hugged and shed some tears after the medal had been confirmed but Morrison, who won Olympic gold in the team pursuit at his home Games in Vancouver four years ago, said words were at a premium.
”I was in disbelief, I still sort of am. It’s a dream, it’s a fairytale story and it’s difficult to believe, it is really happening.
“I’ve heard some rumors that Speed Skating Canada is pushing for him to be the Canadian flagbearer at the closing ceremony. Maybe that is something we can all get behind because he embodies what it means to be a Canadian Olympian.”
Dutch skater Stefan Groothuis won the race and compatriot Michel Mulder took bronze to continue their country’s domination on the ice.
The Dutch have won four of the five speed skating titles at the Adler Arena with the men sweeping all the medals in the 5,000m and 500m.
Groothuis said it was ‘a nice gesture’ by Junio to give up his place to Morrison, while Mulder, who won the 500m, doubted he would have been able to do the same.
“I can’t really remember another case (like this),” the skater said.
“Would I do it? In Holland if you qualify for a distance you are directly one of the favorites. We have a really high level. I think it’s hard for me, I wouldn’t give my spot away that fast.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford