Denny is the youngest of three children of Carol and Dennis Morrison. The entire family has been involved in speed skating. Dennis was a high-performance speed skater and won gold four times at the Canadian Long Track Speed Skating Championships (1997, 1999, 2000 and 2001). Carol has been a national-level official and helped edit the Speed Skating Canada manual for timers and judges. Denny’s brother, Jay, was also part of the Canadian national speed skating team and won a gold medal with Denny and Lucas Makowsky in the men’s team pursuit World Cup on 1 February 2009 in Erfurt, Germany. Their sister Julie also skated in her early teens.
Denny Morrison started speed skating when he was only three years old. His parents originally wanted to enrol both their sons in hockey, but there was no league for Denny’s age group in Chetwynd. “When they checked into hockey at the local rinks, there was nothing available for three-year-olds,” Denny told James Christie of the Globe and Mail in 2009. “It happened that one of my mother’s friends had started a speed skating club, so I was at least able to start learning to skate.” A year later, the family moved to Fort St. John, British Columbia, which had one of the largest speed skating clubs in the province.
Both Denny and Jay became members of the Fort St. John Elks Speed Skating Club. They could have made the switch to hockey, but as Denny later put it, “There’s something cool about being the speed skater among a bunch of hockey-playing friends growing up.” Both boys were fast, and Denny focused on trying to catch Jay on the track. “I don’t think I’d be where I am today without my brother,” Denny recalled in an interview with the CBC. “He was always the guy I chased down. I always wanted to be as fast as him.”
Junior Speed Skating Career
For eight consecutive seasons (1995–96 to 2002–03), Denny was named the Fort St. John Skater of the Year. In 1998, he won the gold medal in the midget division at the Canadian National Short Track Speed Skating Championships in Charlesbourg, Québec, and the Canadian National Long Track Speed Skating Championships in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Denny won three more Canadian Age Class Championships, in the junior division at the 2001 Short Track Speed Skating Championships and the 2002 Long Track Speed Skating Championships and in the intermediate division at the 2003 Short Track Speed Skating Championships.
After graduating from North Peace Secondary School in 2003, Denny moved to Calgary. In 2004 and 2005, he won five medals at the World Junior Speed Skating Championships, finishing fourth overall both years. This included the gold medal in the 500m at the 2005 World Junior Championship in Seinäjoki, Finland.
Senior Long Track Speed Skating
Until 2005, Morrison competed in both short track and long track speed skating. However, he decided to concentrate on long track for the 2005–06 season, a decision that paid immediate dividends. In November 2005, Morrison helped Canada win gold in a men’s team pursuit in Calgary, and in December he earned his first individual podium result in a Division A World Cup event by finishing third in the men’s 1000m in Turin, Italy.
2006 Olympic Winter Games
Morrison returned to the podium in Turin just over two months later at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games, when he and teammates Arnie Dankers, Steven Elm, Jason Parker and Justin Warsylewicz won silver in the men’s team pursuit. Morrison also competed in the 1000m and the 1500m but finished out of the medal standings in those events.
During the 2006–07 speed skating season, Morrison won the gold medal in the men’s 1000m at the World Cup Finals in Calgary, in the process setting a new Canadian record with a time of 1:07.24.
The following season (2007–08), Morrison won the men’s 1000m World Cup races in Calgary and Hamar, Norway, before winning his first career gold medal at the World Single Distance Speed Skating Championships in the men’s 1500m in Nagano, Japan. A week after winning world championship gold, he set the world record in the men’s 1500m at the ING Finale in Calgary with a time of 1:42.01.
In 2008–09, Morrison won two World Cup 1000m races in Kolomna, Russia and another in the 1500m in Erfurt, Germany. He also had a personal best time in the 1000m with a time of 1:07.11, winning a World Cup bronze medal in Salt Lake City in March 2009.
2010 Olympic Winter Games
There were high hopes for Morrison at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, where he won gold in the men’s team pursuit. In an all-North American final, Morrison, Mathieu Giroux and Lucas Makowsky posted a winning time of 3:41.37 to beat the United States by 0.21 seconds. Morrison also competed in the 1000m, 1500m and 5000m, but as in 2006, he failed to reach the podium in individual events.
Morrison seriously considered retirement after the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. He was disappointed with his ninth-place finish in the 1500m and 13th place in the 1000m and felt “worn out and disillusioned.” During the 2010 offseason, Morrison took a “personal mental break” and eased up on his training. Although he had a slow start to the 2010–11 season, he soon recovered and was again winning World Cup medals.
In 2011–12, he won his second career individual gold medal at the World Single Distance Speed Skating Championships when he placed first in the men’s 1500m in Heerenveen, the Netherlands, in March 2012. In November 2012, Morrison returned to Heerenveen and won a World Cup in the men’s 1000m, but his 2012–13 season was cut short when he broke his leg cross country skiing in December 2012.
2014 Olympic Winter Games
Expectations were not high for Morrison prior to the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, since he was not considered a strong medal contender in the individual speed skating distances. At the 2014 Canadian Speed Skating Team Selections event in Calgary, Morrison fell in the men’s 1000m and was selected only for the men’s 1500m and the team pursuit.
However, in an unexpected turn of events, teammate Gilmore Junio gave Morrison his Olympic spot in the men’s 1000m. Morrison delivered not only by winning silver in the men’s 1000m but also bronze in the men’s 1500m.
Overcoming Challenges: Career Since 2014
In 2014–15, Morrison won the World Cup title in the men’s 1500m. Season highlights included gold medals in the men’s 1000m and 1500m at the World Cup Finals in Erfurt, Germany, in March 2015.
In May 2015, though, Morrison suffered multiple injuries, including a concussion, during a motorcycle accident in Calgary. The following spring, in April 2016, he suffered a stroke in Utah after cycling with his girlfriend, Josie Spence. However, Morrison rebounded and won silver in the men’s team pursuit at a World Cup in Astana, Kazakhstan, in December 2016 — less than a year after his stroke. In December 2017, he won the 57th World Cup medal of his career in the men’s team pursuit at Salt Lake City, Utah.
Morrison competed at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, finishing 13th in the men’s 1500m and 7th in the men’s team pursuit.
Charitable Work and Personal Life
Morrison has traveled to Ghana with the Right to Play Foundation and volunteers his time with the Heart and Stroke Foundation, ActNow BC and Kidsport.
He married Josie Spence, a fellow speed skater on the Canadian National Team, on 13 May 2017.
Honours and Awards
- Male Long Track Speed Skater of the Year, Speed Skating Canada (2006–10, 2012, 2014, 2015)
- Community Champion Award, Sport BC (2011)
- BC Sports Hall of Fame (2015)