Canadian Olympic speedskater Gilmore Junio received a commemorative medal on Wednesday morning in spite of the fact he didn't quite make it to the podium at the recent Sochi Games.
Junio was awarded the medal at a special ceremony at King Edward Public School in Kitchener, Ont.
“To know that what Denny and I did resonated with Canadians in a way that they would go out of their way to show their appreciation is super humbling,” said Junio, who had the unique prize placed around his neck by one of the students.
Junio, 23, captured Canadians' hearts when he stepped aside and let teammate Denny Morrison take his place in the men's 1,000-metre race. Morrison fell in the qualifying trial, but went on to win a silver medal for Canada thanks to Junio's sacrifice. Morrison also took a bronze medal in the 1,500.
“Denny Morrison, Jamie Gregg and guys like that, we’re like brothers,” Junio said in an interview on CTV News Channel. “Ultimately our goal was to win medals. So when it didn’t happen for me in the 500-metre, it was crazy not to have Denny in the race.”
Junio's selfless act earned just as much praise and attention from fans and media as Morrison's triumphs, sparking a campaign to present the Calgary athlete with a medal of his own.
A crowd-funding initiative launched by Toronto-based Jacknife Design raised $7,000 to craft Junio a unique gift from Canadians – some of that coming from the pocket change of King Edward elementary students.
The medal is coloured gold and silver with a Western maple burl centre, and features a silver 3D-printed leaf. Printed on the strap of the medal is the name of every Canadian whose donation helped make the medal happen.
“A huge thank you to the people at Jacknife and all of the people that donated to the project – I think this shows what Canada is all about,” said Junio.
Following the medal presentation, Junio made an appearance at the company’s office in downtown Toronto.
"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," said Jacknife partner Mikey Richardson in February, when the design firm launched the project.
"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."
When asked if he had any regrets about his decision, Junio didn’t hesitate.
“Absolutely none. It’s been an amazing journey, and even if Denny didn’t win a medal, I knew he was going to put his best effort out on the ice,” he said.
“We have an amazing story now, and hopefully we can share it for the next little while.”
The process of the special medal's construction can be viewed on the crowd-funding campaign's website.