Canadian short trackers fall short of medals — but there's a silver lining

Charles Hamelin sees a worthy successor in his friend Samuel Girard

Canadian short trackers fall short of medals — but there's a silver lining
Canada's Charles Hamelin, left, and teammate Samuel Girard skate away following the men's 1,500 metre short track race in Gangneung, South Korea, on Saturday. © Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

By Devin Heroux, CBC Sports

The Gangneung Ice Arena erupted Saturday night when South Korea's Lim Hyo Jun crossed the line first in the men's 1,500m short track race to capture gold for the host country. In Olympic record time, too. 

Fans waved South Korean flags wildly, chanted and hugged one another in the aisles. It was pandemonium — a capacity crowd of 12,000 people going crazy over the host country's first medal of the Games on the first official day of competition. 

But it wasn't such a joyous moment for Charles Hamelin. Competing in his fourth — and likely last — Olympics, the Canadian was looking to start the Games with a bang and add to his collection of four medals.

He was also trying to defend his 1,500m gold from Sochi. It never happened. Hamelin crossed the line sixth and was ultimately disqualified for an illegal move midway through the race.

"I wanted to have a better result, but this is short track. Anything can happen," he said.

Hamelin would know. He's been on the winning end of short track drama and the losing end of crashes and falls. His sport is mayhem on ice.  

Midway through the nine-person final, Hamelin was in third and needed to make a move to maintain a podium spot. He was squeezed out by skaters on both sides and forced to the back of the pack.

"I made a mistake in the middle of the race and I knew the call I made could go either way," Hamelin said. 

There was a heavy layer of disappointment, no doubt. But Hamelin was able to find a silver lining in the fact that he was competing alongside teammate Samuel Girard, who's making his Olympic debut.

"If I can take a positive away, it's that I made the final with Samuel. I was able to make the rounds with him."

While the veteran wanted more, the rookie was more than satisfied. Girard, 21, finished fourth. After the skate he was brimming with confidence after just missing the podium.

"I'm really happy with the fourth place," he said. "The experience to be here, living it, I'm really happy with that."

Passing the torch

For the past two seasons Girard and Hamelin have been roommates. They're rooming together in Pyeonchang as well.

Hamelin, 33, has taken Girard under his wing, hoping to propel him into speed skating excellence. He's trying to do everything he can to ensure that Girard is learning everything he needs to be the next great short track speed skater for Canada.

"I've been bringing him with me on this. I think it's important for him to be in a good mindset and a good mood," Hamelin said. "I was close with him this whole day. I was able to bring him where I wanted him to be in his mind and his body."

Hamelin doesn't so much feel a responsibility to prepare Girard for the future. He does it because he feels like they have a great friendship they both benefit from on and off the ice.

"His first final, finishing fourth is something he can be really proud of," Hamelin said.

Wide-eyed and smiling, Girard spoke glowingly of his idol in the post-skate media scrum. 

"It's amazing to do this with him," Girard said. "I'm living the Games with him. I'm really happy to be sharing these moments with Charles."

For as upbeat as he was with his result, Girard knows Hamelin wanted more. And he wanted more for Hamelin. 

"It's the last Olympics for him. I want the gold medal for him," he said. "That's not the way he wanted to finish the 1,500 metres but we'll be happy to talk about this moment in a few years. My first Olympics. His last one."