Saturday 15 February 2014

Canada's Speed Skaters Fight Back

Gaetan Boucher in Sarajevo Olympics 1984 courtesy

Since Denny Morrison suffered a broken leg a couple of years ago he has struggled to regain his Olympic form.  However, Denny's drive was evident today as he raced to a bronze medal in the 1500 m at the Adler Arena.  Denny reminds us of another Canadian Olympic speed skater, Gaetan Boucher.

When Gaetan arrived at the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo, he too was battling back from an injury, a broken ankle.  He had only returned to the ice the previous October.  Gaetan, like Denny, had medalled at the previous Olympics (a silver in Lake Placid).  And like Denny, Gaetan had a burning desire to climb back on the podium.

Unlike Denny, however, Gaetan competed on a shoestring budget.  Canada had not yet introduced the "Own the Podium" program.  Gaetan did not receive the depth of the support that Canadian athletes receive today.

Nonetheless, Gaetan had heart.  He strapped on his skates in Sarajevo, steam coming out of his mouth on that frosty day, and blistered 1000 metres down the track, beating Russian Sergey Khlebnikov and Norwegian Kai Arne Engelstad.  Similarly in the 1500 metres, he once again outskated Khlebnikov and Russian Oleg Bozhev.  He beamed as he donned his Canadian red parka and climbed up on the podium to listen to the strains of "O Canada".

It is 30 years later.  Canadians are back in eastern Europe for the Winter Olympics.  This time the players are different.  Denny Morrison has come to Sochi as somewhat of an underdog given his recent results. While his leg has healed he hasn't regained that Olympic form that won him two medals at the Vancouver Olympics.

Denny straps on his skates for the 1000 metres, up against some stiff competition from the Dutch who have ruled speed skating.  However, Denny, skating smoothly and confidently, outskates favourite Michel Mulder to claim a silver medal.  Only Dutchman Stefan Groothuis is faster.

Three days later Denny is on fire again.  This time he posts a blistering time of 1:45:22.  For quite a time, he sits in gold medal position.  However, dark horse Pole Brodka races down the track in 1:45:00.  The final pairing sees Dutchman Koen Verweij tie Brodka for first.  However, a recalculation says that Brodka beat Verweij by 3/1000ths of a second.  Morrison, slightly disappointed, still smiles at his bronze medal.

Retired Olympian Gaetan is in Sochi reporting for Radio-Canada.  I'm sure he had a sense of deja vu as he watched Denny Morrison skate.  Both Canadians have four Olympic medals.

Denny Morrison in Sochi Olympics 2014 courtesy

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