Charles Hamelin brings body-suited Canadians into short- rack battle
New advances in competitive wear a feature of this year's competition
Charles Hamelin will lead the Canadian short-track speed skating team onto Sochi ice for the first time on Monday wearing what they hope will be a secret weapon – the Apogee Aerosuit.
This skin-tight racing garb is supposed to give the red and white a big advantage over the five days of competition that will distribute 24 medals.
Problem is, the Americans have a suit of their own.
Created by Under Armour and aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, the Mach 39 features five different textiles including a silver-laced one under the thighs that is supposed to reduce drag by 65 per cent.
And the Dutch are featuring a new, super aerodynamic helmet.
As for the favoured South Koreans and Chinese, well, they’re merely bringing a lot of good skaters.
Hamelin, who won a pair of gold medals (500 metres and relay) in just half an hour back in Vancouver, isn’t quite sure what where the Aerosuit is taking them, but he’s confident it’s somewhere special.
“In Vancouver it was a normal skin suit like Lycra,” Hamelin told Reuters news agency. “Nothing fancy, nothing special for aerodynamics.
“And while we don’t exactly know what we have now, we just know that it’s faster than we ever had and it will help us reach our goals. And we can’t wait to race with it and win medals.”
Short-track, to the average viewer, seems more of a combination of athleticism, courage and stock car racing than something space-age technology can affect in a significant way. But any psychological advantage will be a help, especially given how deep the fields are in every race.
Right from the start on Monday morning, the talent will be in the forefront.
First up is the men’s 1,500-metres, an event that runs qualifiers, semis and finals in one day.
Canada offers Hamelin, brother Francois Hamelin (relay gold in Vancouver) and Michael Gilday to a stacked field. This distance has not traditionally been Charles’ best, but pre-race picks have him in the mix.
South Korea’s Lee Han-bin and Russia’s Viktor Ahn (the former Ahn Hyung-soo, who won four medals for his native South Korea in 2006 before he moved and took the new first name) are also favoured.
This being short-track, however, all the top names may be in the padded boards or disqualified for holding, pushing or elbowing by the time the final starts, leaving other names including American J.R. Celski in the spotlight.
Monday also features the 500-metre heats for women, including Marianne St-Gelais (Charles’s long-time girlfriend and the other half of the famous kiss at the boards from Vancouver, when her love won his first gold), Jessica Hewitt (first Olympics) and Valerie Maltais (second Games).
St-Gelais was a two-time medalist in 2010, including the 500-metre, but the favourites for this race are China’s Fan Kexin, and South Korea’s Shim-Suk-hee and Park Seung-hi.
Semis in the women’s 3,000-metre relay also go on Monday, with South Korea, China, Canada and Italy expected to slug it out at the end.