Denny Morrison making strides toward Olympic comeback

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Denny Morrison making strides toward Olympic comeback

CALGARY — With his family watching and cheering on his every stride, Canadian speed skater Denny Morrison took a serious step towards getting back to the Olympics for a fourth time. 

His smile told the story as Morrison crossed the finish line and looked up at the clock at the Olympic Oval in Calgary.

With a time of 1:08:59 in the men's 1,000-metre race, Morrison captured a spot on Canada's fall World Cup team.

"There are so many mental facets to this story and today's race was about getting the belief back in myself a little bit," Morrison said.

The four-day fall World Cup selections kicked off the Olympic season for Canada's long track speed skaters.

For the past two years, Morrison has been trying to piece his body back together after a horrific motorcycle crash and stroke. The four-time Olympic medallist is now trying to regain his world-class form. His family has had a front seat to his struggles as he tries to get back to the Olympics.

"Today's race, it's special. They're my No. 1 teammates. My family knows better than anyone what I've been through on the ice and off the ice as well. It's emotional. A really positive emotion," Morrison said.

Morrison's coach, Bart Schouten, was also emotional after the race.

"That was unbelievable. We weren't sure what he could do," Schouten said. "To come and pull one out like this is inspirational. This is amazing. This fires up everyone."

In the men's 1,000, a total of seven skaters met the time criteria needed to qualify for the World Cup events. Canada has a maximum of four spots available, which will likely be filled by Vincent de Haitre, Alexandre St-John, Morrison and David La Rue.

Personal best for Vincent de Haître

Cumberland, Ontario's Vincent de Haître is making it very clear how dialled in he is for this Olympic season. Despite finishing first in the men's 1,000 race on Saturday, he was visibly disappointed as he cooled down on the bike after the event.

"I have mixed feelings, but I'm happy with the result. I already had a spot and I wanted to show why that was the case," he said. "There's still a lot I need to work on."

He immediately shifted his focus to Sunday's 1,500 race, an event he feels he can reach the podium on at the Olympics.

With a time of 1:43:56, de Haître skated to a personal best in the 1,500, just ahead of Morrison. In this same event, Morrison skated to a bronze medal in Sochi.

Olympic Oval track record set by Bloemen

On Friday, Ted-Jan Bloemen set a new Olympic Oval record in the men's 10,000 distance, stopping the clock at 12:46:83.

Not only is the result a new track record, it's just 11 seconds off of his world record pace he set in Salt Lake City in November 2015. It's the ninth fastest time in the history of the event.

"You don't get to skate many 10,000 metres before the Olympics," Bloemen said. "So when you race them you have to make them count."

Bloemen had already pre-qualified for this event due to his fourth-place finish last year at the world single distance championships but wanted to prove he's aiming for a podium finish at the Olympics.

"There's still room for improvement for sure but I'm happy about this result," he said.  "I was able to fight through it and it was really important I wasn't expecting it."

Jordan Belchos, Graeme Fish and Antoine Gelinas-Bealieu all met the time criteria in the race and are eligible to represent Canada alongside Bloemen at the fall world cups.

Hudey, McLean set tone in women's 500m, 1,000m

Saskatchewan's Marsha Hudey skated to a personal best time in the first of two 500 races on Friday and followed it up with another first-place skate on Saturday.

Her combined two-skate total time of 74.76 was just slightly better than her training partner Heather McLean's time of 74.86.

"I'm happy with my races because I came out to execute and it reflected in my time," Hudey said.

"It's been about six months since we've been doing this. To get a personal best, I'm so stoked about it. It's a great start for me."

McLean, who was happy with her 500 performances, finished first in the women's 1,000 on Saturday.

"It's just going into the world cups being strong and being confident," McLean said.

"Having that confidence at the beginning of the season is going to help going into the Olympics."

Kaylin Irvine and Brianne Tutt finished behind McLean and all three were the only skaters to meet the time required to be eligible for selection at the fall world cups. Canada has a maximum of four spots in the women's 1,000 event.

Other women's notable performances include first place finishes by Ottawa's Isabelle Weidemann in the 3,000 and 5,000, as well as Ivanie Blondin finishing first in the 1,500 just ahead of Tutt.

Gilmore Junio returns from Norway, wins 500m

Gilmore Junio, who is best known for giving up his spot to Morrison at the 2014 Olympics, needed a change after a disappointing finish to last season. He left Canada for Norway and spent the summer training with Canadian Olympic medallist Jeremy Wotherspoon.

Junio admits he had something to prove this weekend in Calgary after leaving the country to train and followed it up with a first-place showing in the men's 500.

"It's a big relief," he said. "I took a risk going to Norway and coming back and seeing the hard work pay off is a big relief. It's definitely a good starting point."

Junio finished both races with a combined time of 68.94, just ahead of Laurent Dubreuil, followed by Alexandre Boisvert-Lacroix, Will Dutton and Alexandre St-John.

Junio says when he checked his phone after his race on Saturday he had a text message from coach Wotherspoon, who was watching online from Norway. All the message said was, "Nice!"

"That's all he's going to say. He lets me know you're only as good as your next result," Junio said.

Canada will only send 20 skaters to the fall world cups over the next couple of months. However, more than 20 skaters met the World Cup time criteria, leaving Canadian coaches having to make difficult decisions to round out the team. The final team will be announced over the next few weeks.