Gilmore Junio honoured to be part of Canada’s Olympic kit unveiling

Olympian Gilmore Junio shows off Hudson Bay Company's new line of Olympic gear at the Eaton Centre in Toronto. (Chris Donovan/CP)

TORONTO – Gilmore Junio won many hearts, if not any hardware, at the 2014 Sochi Olympics when the long-track speedskater offered up his spot in the men’s 1,000-metre race to higher-ranking teammate Denny Morrison, who proceeded to win a silver medal.

The selfless act made the 27-year-old from Calgary an international feel-good story and upon his return from Russia, months of speaking engagements followed, including a particularly enjoyable visit to Our Lady of Peace School where he did his elementary and junior high studies.

Fittingly, he was also among the 15 Canadian athletes vying for a spot in the 2018 Pyeongchang Games on hand Tuesday morning at CF Eaton Centre for the unveiling of the new Olympic kit by Hudson’s Bay Company, a collection of gear for the opening and closing ceremonies, trips to the podium and for hanging out in between.

Junio, who’ll be looking to book his ticket for the 500 and 1,000 events over the next few months, rocked a red and black lumberjack top and a pair of grey sweats on a stage that also included Sochi ski cross champion Marielle Thompson and silver medallist Kelsey Serwa, Vancouver 2010 curling champion John Morris and 10-time para Nordic skiing champion Brian McKeever.

“Growing up in speedskating, you never thought that you’d see some big crowds or be a part of this, really,” said Junio. “But you always wanted to go to the Olympics, so this pretty special. To be a part of the unveiling of the HBC line and to be one of the first people to put on the clothing is a pretty big honour. Hopefully I’ll be wearing it in February as well.”

The clothing line, first popularized during the fervour leading up to the 2010 Vancouver Games, may seem like a superficial piece of the Olympic puzzle. To a degree, it is.

But beyond the business element – and the relationship with HBC is a particularly important one for the Canadian Olympic Committee – there is a wider significance to having a clean, stylish look.

“What we have now is a very contemporary brand that we worked hard to develop over the last six or seven years, and it’s probably best expressed in the way we dress our athletes. We get that feedback from our athletes and, frankly, those we compete with on the international stage, so it’s fun,” said Chris Overholt, the COC’s CEO and secretary general. “Think about it. As an athlete you spend four years in between Olympic Games travelling within your own sport, focused on your own sport discipline and then you have to come together in a multi-sport environment as a team.

“We work very hard as an Olympic committee supporting our athletes in that conversation, getting them comfortable with the idea of being a team, thinking of each other as teammates, supporting each other at Games. The kit is really a big part of that.”

The attention to detail matters for athletes who slave in relative anonymity for four years before being thrust on a global stage, tasked with representing themselves and their country well.

Appearances make impressions and can help establish expectations.

“My whole thing is look good, feel good, be good,” said Serwa, a native of Kelowna, B.C., readying for her third Olympics. “This stuff is super comfortable and what it represents is so much greater than an article of clothing, obviously. It represents the hard work we’ve put in preparing for these Games to eventually translate that into podium performances.”

The new collection of gear will complement the sets Serwa picked up for the Vancouver and Sochi Games, attire she enjoys sharing with friends and family.

“When Canada Day rolls around we never have a shortage of outfits to wear,” she said with a laugh.

Junio has a few go-to pieces he keeps near him with the rest in a drawer at his parents’ house, but getting the duds in the lead-up to Sochi was a big you-made-it moment for a first-time Olympian.

“That was an amazing day,” he said. “We were escorted to this basement and you get this suitcase. Once you open it it’s just popping with clothing. I remember getting fitted for the right jacket. They were all so great, making sure we were looking good on opening day. That’s pretty special. And to be able to walk in for the opening ceremonies with the whole team, we were all wearing those red jackets, that was a special moment and we definitely felt unified as Team Canada.
“That gave us a lot of momentum going into the Olympics.”

Junio’s intention is to build himself some momentum on the World Cup circuit ahead of Pyeongchang. At Sochi he finished 10th in the 500 metres and this time around, he wants to establish himself as a medal threat in the sprint and the 1,000 to add another element to his narrative.

“Everybody’s gotten to see, hopefully, who I am as a person,” said Junio. “The next step is trying to prove myself as an athlete and showing what I can do on the ice, showing that I can be pretty fast, as well. Not only really nice.”