Ben Donnelly started on skates the same way many Canadians did.
“I played hockey when I was five to 10, but then when the Torino Olympics happened, I saw speedskating,” Donnelly remembers.
That was the introduction to a whole new path on the blades.
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Donnelly has been a quick study. Since moving to Calgary full-time to pursue his speedskating dreams, the 21-year-old ascended to the top of the junior ranks, winning the overall World Junior title in the 2015-2016 season.
That was followed by his senior World Cup debut in Calgary, where he won a gold medal in the team pursuit.
“It was really sweet having my whole family come out to watch, like in front of the home country and hometown,” he said.
Ironically, Donnelly was filling the spot of his biggest inspiration in the sport: four-time Olympic medallist Denny Morrison, who was still recovering after a motorcycle accident.
“I have like this signed photo of him from when I was like 11 years old, now it’s like full circle. Now I get to train with him everyday, so it’s sort of just looking up to him,” Donnelly said.
Donnelly also bought three packages of Excel gum from the 2010 Olympics that featured Morrison on the front.
“I haven’t opened any of them, I haven’t taken any of the gum out, it’s still just sitting there.”
Morrison remembers the gum well.
“My parents still have a few packs. I might have one pack, or even just the package itself — the gum is awful now,” Morrison laughed. “Apparently they expired in 2011. I found it wasn’t too bad until 2012, but by 2013 it didn’t have the same crunch to it.”
While the gum may not stand the test of time, the skater on it certainly has. Morrison is now headed to his fourth Olympic Games after overcoming that motorcycle crash, as well as a stroke he suffered less than a year later.
“It’s kind of like a generational thing. It’s kind of cool to hear that I’ve encouraged Ben to get to this level and it’s been really fun working with him,” Morrison said.
The two even shared a World Cup podium together this season, winning gold in the team pursuit in Salt Lake City.
Now, the mentor and protégé will walk into the opening ceremonies in Pyeongchang together, as teammates.
“I have no doubts he’ll stand on an Olympic podium one day in his career,” Morrison said of Donnelly.
And they would both love for that day to come over the next two weeks in South Korea.