When he looks back on 2014, Canadian speed skater Denny Morrison will remember the past few months as the time in his life when all the pieces finally came together.
After winning two medals at the Sochi Olympics, the 28-year-old from Fort St. John, B.C., has continued his podium streak on the World Cup circuit. He took silver in the 1,500 metres in Germany this month, followed by gold in the 1,000 last week in the Netherlands.
But as Morrison gets ready to hang up his skates for the summer, the 28-year-old from Fort St. John, B.C., said his storybook season belongs to the people who “are continually picking me back up and putting me back together.”
After breaking his leg cross-country skiing in 2012, Morrison battled a long list of injuries including hip, rib and back problems that played havoc with his stride and often made it seem like his body was in pieces.
It is a long list of people that were needed to get him back into winning form, but the roster provides a glimpse of how many people it takes to create a winner.
Among them are osteopath Eric Brisson, who worked on Morrison’s bones and muscles to make sure his stride wasn’t thrown off kilter by any one of the injuries. “It’s all related,” Brisson says of the body. “You have to be super well-balanced and symmetrical.”
And as Morrison battled waning confidence, he relied on mental performance consultant Derek Robinson, who helped him focus and rebound from a variety of disappointing races – including falling during Olympic qualifying in December, a disaster that nearly scuttled his Sochi chances. “He had to work hard to let go of what happened at trials,” Robinson said.
Director of sports science Scott Maw oversaw Morrison’s off-ice regimen, pushing him to train at higher altitudes and making sure the skater peaked at the right time for Sochi, which has also paid off since the Games.
Like the rest of the team, though, Maw plays down his role: “Ninety-nine per cent of this is the athlete and the coach,” Maw says. “Anything we add in, it’s at most one per cent for a guy at this level.”
Meanwhile, in the bowels of the arena, equipment technician Reece Derraugh looked after Morrison’s gear, making sure his skates were good to go and nothing went wrong mid-race. “The less busy I am, the better job I’ve done,” Derraugh said of his job.
Helping co-ordinate the team, and a host of other specialists, was medical lead Paul Hunter, who oversaw the various moving parts of Morrison’s recovery. The broken leg created a new challenge since the limb had to be immobilized, but Morrison needed to maintain his fitness if he was going to be a podium threat this season. That meant doing cardio workouts with a hand-bike. But they had to make sure Morrison didn’t work out too intensely to avoid gaining upper-body bulk, which is bad for a speed skater.
Training an Olympic athlete takes dedication, Hunter said, and a love of the job. “You’re not doing this to make your millions,” he said. “You do it more for the passion of sport.”
Morrison said the list of people who helped put him back together is long. But the 2014 season is their ultimate payoff.
“They know who they are,” he said. “They are like family to me. It’s been a hell of a ride.”