Sochi Olympics Speedskating Men

Don’t forget from Sochi: Canadian speedskater Gilmore Junio, a real team player

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Every now and then, Olympic Talk will look back at athletes and/or stories who were memorable, even if they didn’t end up earning medals. As it turns out, some of the best stories don’t come with gold, silver or bronze.

Canadian speedskater Gilmore Junio had already finished with a Top-10 result in the men’s 500m at the Sochi Olympics, and was slated to compete again in the 1000m on Feb. 12.

Junio was one of the four Canadian skaters that had qualified at that distance, but notably absent from that group was Denny Morrison, a two-time world champ in the 1500m that was no slouch in the 1000m, either.

Morrison had failed to qualify in the 1000m when he fell in that event during the Canadian trials in December.

But in a gracious gesture, Junio gave his spot for the Sochi 1000m to Morrison, the first alternate for Canada at that distance.

He did it because he thought Morrison would give their country the best chance in the event, calling him “a consistent medal threat in the distance.”

When it came time for the race, Morrison would reward his teammate’s faith in him with a silver medal finish – just .04 of a second behind gold medal winner Stefan Groothuis of the Netherlands.

“I was breathing hard, I have lost my voice and I am so pleased for him,” Junio said immediately following the event per Reuters.

As for Morrison, he pushed for Junio to become Canada’s flagbearer for tonight’s Closing Ceremony, saying that he “embodies what it means to be a Canadian Olympian.”

Junio ultimately didn’t get the nod, which went instead to women’s bobsled gold medalists Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse.

But he could get something else.

Toronto-based design firm Jacknife Design is now trying to raise $7,000 CDN on Indiegogo that will go toward the creation of a special medal for Junio.

It would be comprised of three primary materials – maplewood to represent the people of Canada, silver to represent the 1000m medal Morrison won, and gold to represent the country’s gratitude toward Junio.

“Junio’s ability to put his own lifelong dream aside to give another athlete a shot, set an example for not only Canada but people all over the world,” Jacknife creative director Michael Richardson said to the CBC.

“The way he put the pride of the country ahead of his own personal aspirations made my head spin and left me truly inspired. We had to do something to recognize this true Canadian hero.”

Let’s hope Canadians can give one of their own the recognition he deserves.

Lindsey Vonn sets date for proposal to enter men’s race

ALTENMARKT/ZAUCHENSEE, AUSTRIA - JANUARY 15: Lindsey Vonn of USA celebrates during the Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup Women's Downhill on January 15, 2017 in Altenmarkt/Zauchensee, Austria (Photo by Christophe Pallot/Agence Zoom/Getty Images)
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The U.S. Ski Team plans to submit a proposal in the spring for Lindsey Vonn to be able to race against men in November 2018, according to the Denver Post.

“I know I’m not going to win, but I would like to at least have the opportunity to try,” Vonn said, according to the newspaper. “I think I’ve won enough World Cups where I should have enough respect within the industry to be able to have that opportunity.”

Vonn’s idea is to race in Lake Louise, Canada, an annual late fall stop on both the men’s and women’s World Cup schedules. The men generally race in Lake Louise one week before the women do.

Vonn’s greatest success has come at Lake Louise, with 18 victories in 41 downhill and super-G starts dating to 2001.

Vonn previously requested in 2012 to be able to race against men in Lake Louise, but that was denied by the International Ski Federation (FIS). The federation said then “that one gender is not entitled to participate in races of the other.”

It doesn’t look like the federation’s stance has changed.

“You can set up a day where a female racer can compete against men racers, just as a show, but it has nothing to do with competition,” FIS women’s race director Atle Skaardal said, according to the Denver Post. “I don’t see that it’s going to change in the next years — no driving forces to urge a change like that. This is something the teams could do also in training. But why would you want to have a competition in this direction?

“I just don’t see the interest. For me it’s a meaningless comparison. It doesn’t matter if she’s one second behind or a half-second ahead. We compete female against female and men against men. To me it doesn’t matter if one gender is faster or slower. It doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, just because it’s of interest to one racer. I haven’t heard of any other sport being dragged into this kind of position.”

Vonn raced for the first time in 322 days on Sunday, finishing 13th in a World Cup downhill in Austria. It was actually an encouraging result, as Vonn said she wasn’t skiing to her limit in her first race back.

Her upcoming goals are to compete in the 2018 Olympics, after missing Sochi due to injury, and earn 11 more World Cup wins to break Ingemar Stenmark‘s career record of 86 victories. She can overtake Stenmark next season if she stays healthy and continues to win at her usual pace.

Vonn said in the spring that she would postpone retirement by one year and compete in the 2018-19 season if it meant being able to race the men.

But Skaardal’s comments suggest that won’t be possible.

“It’s definitely frustrating to hear that he said that, because I respect Atle very much,” Vonn said, according to the Denver Post. “He does a great job on the World Cup, and he is a former racer, so he understands. It’s disappointing to hear he doesn’t support it. But maybe if we organize something and a plan is put in front of him, maybe he would change his mind. I think most of the men are supporting me.”

Vonn is expected to race this weekend in a downhill and super-G in Garmish-Partenkirchen, Germany, streamed live on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

MORE: Bode Miller plans to race next season, U.S. coach says

Wayne Gretzky compares Hayley Wickenheiser to NHL legend

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The greatest male hockey player of all time paid the greatest female player of all time quite the compliment at her retirement ceremony Saturday.

“You played with heart, desire, finesse, speed, skill,” Wayne Gretzky said to Hayley Wickenheiser. “The only other person, the greatest player to ever live, I think he would be happy if I said you were the female Gordie Howe. Congratulations.”

The Canadian legend Wickenheiser announced her retirement Friday, after six Olympics and four gold medals. On Saturday, she was honored before a Calgary Flames-Edmonton Oilers game. A highlight was a speech by Gretzky, who now works in the Oilers’ front office.

Wickenheiser’s first Olympics, Nagano 1998, marked the only Winter Games for Gretzky. Gretzky played in the first Olympics with NHL participation in Nagano, finishing fourth with Canada, and retired in 1999 without an Olympic medal.

“You’ve opened so many doors for so many young girls to be able to one day win a gold medal,” Gretzky said to Wickenheiser. “To me, that’s more important than anything.”

Wickenheiser then took the mic at center ice and reciprocated.

“A big part of why I play the game is because of this man standing right here, Wayne Gretzky,” she said, later adding, according to Canadian media, “In Salt Lake City [2002] when we won the gold medal, the first two people I saw when we stepped off the ice were Wayne and [former Oilers All-Star defenseman] Kevin [Lowe] standing in our dressing room cheering for us.”

As part of the Wickenheiser ceremony, a tribute video was played including messages from Canadian Olympian and Hall of Famer Mark Messier, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

MORE: Amanda Kessel sets sights on 2018 Olympics