GANGNEUNG, South Korea (Reuters) - Horrific injuries forced Denny Morrison to completely overhaul his technique ahead of the Winter Olympics, but the veteran speed skater is hoping that despite all the changes, the outcome will be similar to what he experienced in Sochi.
Morrison was the only Canadian racer to medal in 2014, claiming silver in the 1,000 meters and bronze in the 1,500, but his hopes of improving on those results in South Korea were nearly ended by a motorcycle accident in 2015.
The crash left him with a shattered femur, a torn anterior cruciate ligament, a punctured lung and a host of other serious injuries, and less than a year later, he was back in hospital after suffering a stroke while biking the Arizona Trail.
“Being an athlete my entire life I think it’s just in my blood to do what I have to do to keep pushing forward to overcome whatever problem is stood in my way,” the 32-year-old told Reuters after a training session at the Gangneung Oval.
“The motorcycle accident was just one big almost opportunity to see if I could stand by my words of persevering through anything.
“The stroke was a whole different thing. It wasn’t painful and it wasn’t really difficult to overcome except for the mental aspect, and there was a whole different set of challenges there.
“Meeting other stroke survivors and seeing how much true grit and perseverance they’ve shown is in a whole different ball park than I’ve ever experienced in my life in sport.”
Although Morrison, who will race in the 1,500m in Gangneung and is also part of Canada’s team pursuit squad, has been forced to adapt because of his injuries, he is trying to turn the modifications into an advantage.
“We’ve been changing a lot of things, especially at the start line,” he added. “That’s the most difficult part for me, even to this day. Because of adapting the start, I’ve had to adapt the entire race in some way or another.
“It’s been challenging, but it’s been kind of exciting in that I’ve changed my whole race, I’ve changed my whole training and I’m getting results that are shockingly close to what I used to see with an entirely different strategy.”
Morrison has fond memories of the Sochi Games, especially of his silver in the 1,000m, and is eager to rekindle the feeling of racing the perfect race in South Korea.
“Of course I want the medals in everything I race in, but I would like to replicate the feeling that I had after my 1,000m in Sochi after my 1,500m here,” he said.
“I was (in) an early pair in the 1,000m and I was fist-pumping, I was high-fiving my coaches, and I didn’t even care if I was on the podium. That was the best I could have done that day. That’s what I would like to do in the 1,500m especially.”
Editing by John O'Brien