The U.S. team's shedding of its 'skins' for more conventional speed skating attire failed to yield a medal in the men's 1,500 metres at Sochi 2014 on Saturday. Meantime, Fort St. John, B.C.'s Morrison continued his restorative run by winning his second medal of the Games, taking the bronze in what's considered the most demanding men's race and adding more to his comeback story. Morrison arrived in Sochi coming off an injury-filled two years where he was set back by a broken leg sustained in a skiing mishap.
"This is something I've wanted to do at the Olympics for eight years now," Morrison told the CBC. "In Torino I wanted this and in Vancouver I wanted this. It's been a long road, a lot of persistence and it's finally paid off."
Starting in the 12th of the 20 pairs, the 28-year-old Morrison took the lead after finding an efficient gear and clocked in at one minute 45.22 seconds. A 23.49-second opening lap propelled him onward into an almost sure medal position.
[Related: Up to date medal standings]
"My plan, and what I've found in many 1,500-metre races over the years, is I can't go out slow and conserve it and try to beat the other guy," added Morrison, who has given Canada medals in both the men's 1,000 and 1,500 m for the first time since Gaétan Boucher's double gold in 1984. "I have to go out my way. Go out fast and just hang on. Today I was able to hang on, just enough.
"It's not quite as, whatever, as the last time," Morrison added when asked to compared the result to his silver in the 1,000, where he raced after teammate Gilmore Junio gave up the berth he earned in qualifying. "To race my best 1,500 in two years, since 2012, right here at the Olympics, I was beginning to think I couldn't even do it. But I always kept believing.
Morrison's skate primed the crowd for a dramatic finish. In the fourth-last pairing, Poland darkhorse Zbigniew Brodka, a 29-year-old who had two podium finishes in the 1,500 in World Cup races this fall but no career wins, posted an even 1:45.00 to bump Morrison into silver position. In the last pair, the Netherlands' Koen Verweij also skated 1:45 flat, forcing officials to go to the next decimal place to decide the gold while Morrison was bumped to bronze. Brodka, who finished 27th in Vancouver, got the gold by three-thousandths of a second, 1:45.006 to Verweij's 1:45.009.
"You already want to puke," Morrison said of watching the other races. "But man does it feel good when you end up in the top three."
Morrison arrived in Sochi on a career downturn after battling injuries. That made the Calgary-based racer somewhat as an afterthought for individual honours and drew attention away from the fact that he was a world champion at the 1,500 distance as recently as 2012.
The Americans' request to ditch the Mach 39 suits that have been blamed for slow times was granted. It didn't change much for two-time gold medalist Shani Davis, who was paired with the little-known Brodka. Davis started with a 25.75-second opening lap, failed to display his late-race push of Olympics past and came in at 1:45.98, good for 11th.
Brian Hansen, seventh in 1:45.59, was the second-best North American finisher after Morrison. Canada's Mathieu Giroux, who is in his final Olympics, finished 19th.
It was a tight gap among the top 10, but Morrison prevailed. The story is certainly Brodka, who had also never won an individual medal at a world championship, but holds Polish national records in the 1,000 and 1,500. Both were set on former Olympic ovals in Calgary and Salt Lake City, but it's a stretch to say that was an omen.
Morrison had two previous medals in team pursuit (2006 silver, 2010 gold). Morrison is part of Canada's defending Olympic champion men's pursuit team, whose competition begins Feb. 21.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.
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