Charles Hamelin 'almost unstoppable' heading into Olympics
Canadian short track team could make run at 6 medals
There’s an old saying that “the more you play the more you win.”
It’s an adage that certainly applies to Canada’s short track speed skaters for Sochi in February. The Canadians just completed the four World Cup events leading to the Olympic Games this past weekend, and qualified the maximum number of skaters for each discipline.
That means three Canadian skaters will go to the line in all 500, 1,000 and 1,500-metre events for both the men and women. In a rough and tumble sport that takes no prisoners, the more skaters you send to the line, the better your chances of reaching the Olympic podium.
The 2010 Vancouver Olympics produced five medals. Charles Hamelin won two gold medals — in the 500m and 5,000m relay team — while the now retired Francois Louis Tremblay earned a bronze in the 500m. On the women’s side, Marianne St-Gelais captured a silver in the 500m, and claimed another silver as part of the 3,000m relay team.
Expectations for Sochi will be high once again, especially with the success of the World Cup season.
Hamelin, outside of a bruised leg which he suffered in Kolomna, Russia on Saturday during the last stop on the World Cup circuit, has been, as his father and short track program director Yves Hamelin put it, “almost unstoppable” this season.
Charles Hamelin, 29, finished the World Cup season with five gold and one silver medal, while the Canadian short team earned a total of 15 medals.
Hamelin, of Levis, Que., has been working the last four years to overcome his “endurance” — a weakness that has prevented him from consistently posting podium results in the 1,500m.
But the work has paid off this season with Hamelin winning a gold and silver in the 1,500m distance.
Add three silver medals in the 1000m, a pair of wins in the 500m — his favourite distance — and the Olympic champion is a realistic threat to win three individual medals, and a fourth in the men’s relay, where the Canadians are the defending Olympic champions.
Hamelin will be joined by his brother Francois Hamelin, Olivier Jean, Charle Cournoyer and Michael Gilday on the men’s relay team.
History in the making
Hamelin goes to Sochi with three Olympic medals in his back pocket. If the Quebec skater earns four more medals in Sochi, he would break long track legend Cindy Klassen’s mark of six and become the most decorated Canadian speed skater ever.
In addition, no short track skater in the history of the Olympics has ever won four gold medals, and Hamelin will need a certain amount of luck to make history.
At times, short track has been described as “roller derby on ice” or “NASCAR on ice.” Accidents and spills are common, and are often times not the fault of those involved.
Hamelin found that out the hard way in the semifinal of the 1,500m Saturday as he was dragged down by John Henry Kruger of the U.S.
Women not as strong
The women’s team won’t be as strong as the men.
St-Gelais will try to improve on her performance in Vancouver. That won’t be easy. China’s Wang Meng is the dominant force by a country mile.
Having won gold in Turin and Vancouver, Wang, 29, will be trying for the three-peat in Sochi.
St-Gelais’ task will be to somehow equal Wang’s start, or figure out some way to make a pass. But the best St-Gelais could do on the World Cup circuit was a bronze in the opening stop in Shanghai.
Supporting St-Gelais in Sochi will be Marie Eve Drolet, Valerie Maltais, Jessica Gregg and Jessica Hewitt.
Drolet is a distance specialist who was one of the world’s best before quitting the sport after skating at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.
The best skater at the Canadian Olympic trials was Maltais, who got off to a slow start in this season, but finished with a silver and bronze, respectively, in the 1,500m.
Gregg is the daughter of former Edmonton Oilers defenceman Randy Gregg and sister of long track speed skater Jamie Gregg.
Jessica Gregg finished fourth in 500m in Vancouver. Hewitt, the team’s fifth member, will likely see her only action on the relay team. The Canadian women have won a medal in every Olympics, including gold at the 1992 Albertville Games.
In the last two Olympics, the colour of the Canadian relay medal has been silver. The Koreans have won four of the six gold medals in the relay, and will be favored to do the same in Sochi.
The Canadians will win four medals in Sochi with an outside shot of equalling the six the team earned at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.