SPORTS

After assist on Morrison medal, Gilmore Junio racing for one of his own

10/21/2014 06:55 EDT | Updated 12/21/2014 05:59 EST
CALGARY - As much as Gilmore Junio relishes his part in the tale of he and teammate Denny Morrison, Junio doesn't want it to define his speedskating career.

Junio giving up his spot in the 1,000 metres for Morrison, who won a silver medal, has become part of Canadian team lore from the 2014 Winter Olympics in February.

That generous act and Morrison turning it into a medal in Sochi, Russia, made Junio as celebrated in Canada as any medallist.

From serving as an honorary co-marshall of the Calgary Stampede to the letters he's received to public speaking invitations, Junio has enjoyed the celebrity-athlete treatment.

As his 2014-15 racing season gets underway, Junio is committed to writing his own Olympic medal into this narrative.

"I don't want my career to be summed up by that one action," Junio said Tuesday at the Olympic Oval in Calgary. "I want to be known as someone who performs and has produced medals.

"It's a nice place to start my career, but for sure, just like Denny winning individual medals and being a contender and a winner, I want to do that as well in my career."

"Nice guys can finish first. That's my objective."

Junio races in the World Cup trials starting Thursday at the Oval. Speedskaters are racing for berths on the Canadian team travelling to the first four World Cup events this season. The 2015 world all-around championships will be held March 7-8 in Calgary.

After finishing 10th in the 500 metres in Sochi, Junio won a World Cup silver and a bronze in the distance to close out last season. The 24-year-old Calgarian also won a World Cup gold in November, 2013 in Utah.

Junio wants to be more of a regular on the international podium this winter, which he believes is necessary to be a contender at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

"I want to build off some of the momentum I got at the end of the season last year with two World Cup medals and a gold earlier on in the season," he said. "I want to be more consistent and be one of the top guys in the world.

"We'll see what the 1,000 is like this year, but for sure the 500 is definitely at the forefront. It's my bread and butter and the race I enjoy the most, but I definitely want to get better at the 1,000, so in 2018 I don't have to give my spot away."

After Catriona Le May Doan, Cindy Klassen, Clara Hughes, Kristina Groves and Jeremy Wotherspoon, it now falls to Junio and Morrison to be leaders, and the faces, of Canada's speedskating team on the road to Pyeonchang.

Morrison is natural for the role as the most decorated athlete on the team. The 29-year-old from Fort St. John, B.C., added a bronze in the 1,500 metres in Sochi to an Olympic medal collection that included team pursuit gold and silver from 2010 and 2006, respectively.

"I see us having a really strong team going into the 2018 Olympics in (South) Korea, so I'm excited about it," Morrison said.

"I like my position as a veteran on the team and I try to make everyone relax and have some fun. Now, with the story that Gil and I have, it'll be neat to see how things progress as we move forward."

Morrison understands Junio's desire to create his own success apart from their partnership in Sochi.

"I think it's a real cool story, very Canadian and something people will probably remember a long time, but if he wins an Olympic medal of his own then his story is going to be exponentially more incredible," Morrison said.

"That adds a lot of pressure too. The day after Sochi I knew Gil would probably have some pressure on him going to the next Olympics. I'm already trying to fill my veteran role and let him know what to expect regarding that. I felt like I had that going into Vancouver a little bit."

Just 11 skaters were named to the national-long track team this winter after 17 competed for Canada in Sochi. There are, however, 20 skaters on the development team who can earn berths in World Cup via the trials.

Christine Nesbitt, winner of the Olympic women's 1,000 in 2010, was named to the national team but won't race until she's healed from injuries that slowed her in Sochi.

"I think our post-Olympic phase for the Canadian team is we're really looking to re-build and use the few veterans we have for younger skaters and developmental skaters to interact and train with them," said Michael Crowe, one of the Canadian team coaches.

Canada may have a new weapon in men's distance racing sooner than anticipated. Ted-Jan Bloemen said he's received the necessary Canadian citizenship paperwork to apply for a passport.

The 27-year-old has been training at the Oval since his arrival from the Netherlands in June. Bloemen's father Gerhard-Jan was born in Bathurst, N.B.

Bloemen now needs the International Skating Union's permission to compete for Canada. He skated a 10,000 metres in the Netherlands last December in a time of 13 minutes, 8.57 seconds, which is two seconds faster than the current Canadian record.

"Ted's been a really great addition to our team," Junio said. "He's really helped our distance guys. He's been a guy in the Netherlands who has performed in some big races and big competitions."

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