Calgary speed skater Gilmore Junio was never called to a podium in Sochi, but still became a household name to Canadians during the Olympics. Ahead of the 1,000-metre long-track race, Mr. Junio was asked by his coach to step aside and give teammate Denny Morrison his spot since Mr. Morrison stood a better chance of winning a medal. He did, and Mr. Morrison indeed brought home a silver for Canada.
Now Toronto design firm Jacknife wants to give Mr. Junio a medal of his own – even if it's not emblazoned with the Olympic rings. Jacknife is tapping Canadians through crowdfunding site Indiegogo to turn their digital prototype into the real deal (they hope to raise $7,000 to cover the cost of materials, manufacturing, perks for donors and bringing Mr. Junio to Toronto to receive the medal).
Reached in Calgary two days after returning from Russia, Mr. Junio said the reaction he's received from Canadians has been "super flattering." He learned of the medal project online: Mr. Morrison retweeted a Jacknife tweet about it. "It's humbling to hear that people are going out of their way to do something for me," he said.
Mikey Richardson and Mike Kelar, partners at Jacknife, and project manager Michelle Hotchin explained why Mr. Junio's "selfless act" compelled them to create a medal for the Olympian.
On rewarding a "Canadian" act:
Richardson: We're getting medals and we're really high up on the charts but also doing amazing acts of kindness. You'd typically think the country that's winning lots of events is also somehow underhanded and really aggressive and selfish, and those are a lot of things that come along with being at the top of the podium. Whereas we're saying that as a country, we can be kind and friendly and have a good time and also be winning.
On Mr. Junio's coach asking him to give his spot to his teammate:
Kelar: I would think these conversations happen all the time with coaches on every team and on every level. Obviously I wasn't in the room so I don't know how that was asked but from what I've read it sounded like him giving this up was perhaps something he was thinking about earlier. I don't think it was out of the blue and it was a shock and they were forcing him. I think it was a discussion that happened and he wasn't forced to do it.
On the inspiration for the medal's design:
Kelar: It was definitely a group effort and it was kind of very guerrilla: fast and furious. There's a lot of research that goes on. We start collecting what 'Canadian' represents: anything from paintings to historical things to colour. A couple designers started developing the form of what it looks like, what are the materials that would be used. And we have to think about, What does this go into? We don't want to make a nice medal and throw it into a shopping bag and send it to him, right?
Richardson: We knew that it would be great to get him a gold medal but we wanted it to have a bit of a story. We thought gold is what he was ultimately striving for in his athletic career, Denny Morrison's silver, and we chose maple as representing the people of Canada. We're going to do a red leather strap because that's so Canadian and we wanted a natural material for that. And then it'll be housed in a wooden box.
Obviously people are donating on Indiegogo but other people have reached out in different capacities. 'Can we donate gold? Would you guys melt down old jewelery that people donated?' We like the idea of bringing in raw materials and also precious materials and the combination of those two sum up what Canada's about: both the diversity of our landscape and our people.
On delivering the medal:
Hotchin: That's a work in progress. We're reaching out to local speed skating clubs in Toronto, we're connecting with Speed Skating Canada, we're trying to go to the community that he's a part of. We think it's important for there to be a bit of pomp and ceremony around giving him the medal. We're not going to FedEx it. We're hoping to bring Gil here and we don't want him to have to travel alone. We talked all about his 12 family members that went to Russia so we'd like to bring him and at least one family member here to receive it.
This interview has been condensed and edited