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The Canadian speed skater has become a national sensation with an astonishing act of selflessness when he allowed a teammate – who won silver – to compete in his place. Now people are calling for Junio, who is at his first Olympics in Sochi, to carry the flag at the closing ceremony. 23-year-old tells Shawna Richer that he doesn’t regret his decision – and his parents gave him the sensibility to make it. In his own words:
“The decision to give Denny [Morrison] my spot was purely about performance. We wanted what was best for the team, what gave us the best chance to win.
The ball got rolling after the 500 metres on Monday. We were in a sombre mood because we didn’t get the results we were looking for. My coach [Michael Crowe] looked at me, paused, and said, ‘Maybe this isn’t the right time, maybe there is never a right time, but would you ever consider giving your spot to Denny?’
But the decision, it was all mine. I actually knew I’d do this back at the Olympic trials [in December in Calgary].
In the [Calgary]1,000 metres, Denny did a re-race after he fell. He crossed the line and saw that he was in fifth and I turned to my teammate Danielle [Wotherspoon-Gregg] and said, ‘I’m going to give my spot to Denny.’ And she said, ‘Keep that to yourself, don’t ever say that again.’ When I saw his time I was gutted. He’s a teammate, a friend, and that’s his distance. I was the benefactor of unfortunate events at trials and this was the way to make it right.
At first my dad was a little upset they asked me and not someone else. But he understands that I see myself as a leader on this team and that I want to lead by example. After I told him why I did it he was more proud.
The feeling I felt in Vancouver, as a spectator watching and feeling inspired and proud to be Canadian, is something I wanted to give back to the country.
I look up to Denny a lot. He inspires me every day. This is my way of paying him back.
There’s a corner of a sign in the stands that’s broken off and that was from me pounding on the sign during his race. When he won silver I knew the cameras would be on me and I wanted to get out of the stands as quickly as possible because it was Denny’s moment.
My coach found me and said, ‘You’re amazing.’ Denny was the second person I talked to after the race. I yelled. He yelled. We hugged. He couldn’t stop saying ‘thank you.’ I shed some tears.
My parents [Gino and Julie] came to Canada from the Philippines looking to give their family a better life. Through my childhood they raised me to be a team player, consider the big picture and not only think of myself, to be humble and not a showoff. Ultimately that’s one of the reasons I made the decision I did.
I owe a lot to my parents. Hopefully seeing me at the Olympics validates the sacrifices they made for me as a kid.
For them it was school first, sports second. But I used school as a tool to allow me to perform at either hockey or speed skating.
They expected 80 per cent and above. When I came home with 75 it was stern. My toughest subject was social studies. Science was tough for me.
It was a strict household. We had fun, but academics came first. Still, my dad loved being at the rink with me. I’ll never forget after church on Sundays early in the morning we’d go to the outdoor rink a block from our house. He couldn’t skate but he’d stand in the middle with a hockey stick and pass pucks to my brother and I.
He just loved being involved and my mom would be home cooking a hot meal for when we got home. That sense of family was so important when my parents expected a lot out of me.
In Grade 12 I was at a low point. I’d missed making the junior team and my grades dipped. I fell out of love with speed skating. I came home one day with my report card, which wasn’t good. I had 72 per cent. My parents said you’re not going to speed skate if you don’t have good grades. Those weeks after just studying and not skating, I missed being at the oval, skating around in circles. I missed just skating around in circles, as crazy as that sounds. That cemented my feeling that I wanted to be a speed skater.
Those high expectations are one of the reasons I’ve been able to get to this level.
I’m my worst critic. To have that sense of perfection, it’s a curse but a good thing when you’re trying to make up hundredths, thousandths of seconds.
I’m trying to learn how to let go, let things happen. In sports it’s a balance between wanting it and wanting it too much.
My parents raised me as a Catholic. I was an altar boy at St. Patrick’s Church. I still go there. Well, I still live with my parents.
My idols growing up were Jarome Iginla, Steve Yzerman and Batman. He’s my favourite superhero because he stays in the shadows and just does his job. That’s something I admire.
My dad is such a family man. He’ll do anything to get the job done.
My mom is more the silent, supportive type. She’s the Batman of our family. She cooks and takes care of me. She’s a small lady but after the race she gave me the biggest hug.
I love practice. In speed skating there’s a rhythm and flow that is almost like a dance. My favourite days are when I get in that flow and float across the ice. You go around the corner with some speed, and hear the ice crack. I love that sound.
It’s like a dance. And I love dancing. I’m the best dancer on the team.
I am a little lacking in my two-step. Born and raised in Calgary, you’d think I’d be better. There may be a couple YouTube videos out there, ready to leak.
People see this decision as a sacrifice. But I don’t see it that way. I’m glad it worked out. The guy made me look good.
There are so many great athletes, I don’t know if I deserve [to carry the flag at the closing ceremony]. If I get to carry it I might have to keep up my reputation, and give it away to Denny.”
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