Charles Hamelin's legacy will be measured in medals — but not the ones he's won

Short-track legend ties Canadian record for most-decorated male Olympian

Charles Hamelin's legacy will be measured in medals — but not the ones he's won
The Canadian team of, left to right, Samuel Girard, Charle Cournoyer, Charles Hamelin and Pascal Dion celebrates after they captured bronze in the men's 5,000-metre relay final at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, in Gangneung, South Korea on Thursday. © Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press

By Vicki Hall, CBC Sports

Canada bid an unofficial farewell to Charles Hamelin on Thursday after what will likely be his final spin around the Olympic ice.

Canada fell head-over-heels for the boyish Romeo of short track speed skating back in 2010 when he vaulted over the boards to kiss his girlfriend, Marianne St-Gelais.

The iconic embrace between national team skaters came after Hamelin crushed all comers in the 500-metre final to seize his first of three Olympic gold medals.

In that moment, a hero was born.

True to form, he exited the stage in style by winning his fifth-career medal, a bronze in the 5,000 relay, at the Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. And this latest bauble grants him entry into an elite club that includes Marc Gagnon, Francois-Louis Tremblay and Phil Edwards as Canada's most-decorated male Olympians.

Among women, Cindy Klassen and Clara Hughes top the leaderboard at six apiece.

"We raced for the gold," the 33-year-old Hamelin told reporters in Gangneung. "And I think the medal we have right now, the bronze, we can be as proud of as if we were the gold medallists.

"Because we give it all and we just can be proud of what we did."

In his final Olympic news conference, it was all about "we" for Hamelin and not "me."

As per usual.

"It's something really special," said Hamelin, who was disqualified in all three of his individual races in South Korea. "The team changed a lot in the last two years after Sochi."

In Sochi, Canada failed to advance to the 5,000 relay final after Francois Hamelin, Charles's younger brother, crashed out in the semi. In Pyeongchang, Canada exacted redemption as Hamelin combined with  Girard, Charle Cournoyer and Pascal Dion to climb back on the podium.

'I'm really proud'

"Just to be able to complete here, the race was kind of crazy," said Hamelin, the first short-track speed skater to win Olympic gold (2010), silver (2006) and bronze (2018) in the 5,000-metre relay.

"All teams raced really well and I'm really proud to be on the podium, to share the podium with them. As a team, we're really proud of what we did."

The Canadians crossed the line in six minutes, 32.282 seconds. Hungary won gold in an Olympic-record time of 6:31.971. China stopped the clock at 6:32.035.

For Canada, gold was there for the taking until Girard collided with a Korean skater on the second-last lap. That resulted in a clumsy final exchange between Hamelin and Samuel Girard and a critical loss of time.

The legend accidentally clipped his protege in what will go down as the unofficial handoff from one generation to the next.

"We had a big hit in the middle of the ice that cost me a lot of speed," Girard said. "He got my goggles and they fell on the ice, but I didn't focus on that. I was just, 'OK, I have to stay up and I have to finish my race.'"

They finished with bronze, giving Hamelin one final victory lap and Canada one last glimpse at a generational talent who has come to define short track in this country.

After all, without Charles Hamelin and Marianne St-Gelais, there is likely no Samuel Girard or Kim Boutin.

Excellence begets excellence, from one Olympics to another. And in this case, Hamelin and St. Gelais showed nothing but grace as they watched the youngsters overtake them with medals on the line.

It's natural to assume the best of our sporting heroes. But up close, they tend to be flawed human beings like the rest of us. No one likes to be replaced or bumped to the sidelines.

As such, no one could blame Hamelin and St-Gelais for indulging in self-pity after their individual races in Pyeongchang.

But the opposite was true. In the 1,000 semifinal, the officials disqualified Hamelin for an infraction that likely belonged to Girard. While initially bewildered, Hamelin flipped a switch and cheered like mad for his younger teammate.

The picture of the two celebrating Girard's 1,000-metre gold medal — with Hamelin pointing at the youngster and madly slapping him on the helmet — is the iconic image of Canadian short track at these Games.

"I will share my medal with him," Girard pronounced. "He worked so hard for me to be what I am."

And for what Girard — and the rest of the Canadian short-track team — will be.