Samuel Girard, Kim Boutin prove Canadian short track's next generation has arrived

Olympic medallists cement their status as heirs to the throne long occupied by Hamelin, St-Gelais

By Vicki Hall, CBC Sports

It's a sad truth — in sport and life —that even the fastest among us will eventually fall in the battle against the passage of time.

We can rage against the inevitability. We can deny it. Or we can accept the seasons with grace and honour.

Clearly, short-track speed skaters Charles Hamelin and Marianne St. Gelais choose the latter.

With the world watching, the long-time Olympic power couple is passing the proverbial torch to Samuel Girard and Kim Boutin at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

On Saturday, an elated Hamelin — while still digesting his own controversial disqualification in the 1,000-metre semifinal — bear-hugged Samuel Girard on the boards in celebration of the younger skater's first Olympic gold medal.

"Just before the race he said to me, 'Let's go, you can do this,'" the 21-year-old Girard said of his mentor and training partner. "He gave me a tap on the back. We train together, all the team was behind me on this medal."

Earlier, St. Gelais embraced Kim Boutin in a similar scene after the 23-year-old from Sherbrooke, Que. shook off death threats to win bronze in the women's 1,500 metres.

As one generations steps aside, another skates into place.

"It took me a lot of courage to get onto the podium," Boutin said in what amounts to an Olympic-sized understatement. "So I'm pretty happy."

Pretty happy? Try elated, considering Boutin made history as the first Canadian female short track speed skater to win two individual medals at the same Olympic Winter Games.

Her second bronze came four days after tangling with Korea's Minjeong Choi in the 500, thus sparking outrage — and threats of physical harm — on social media.

In the aftermath, the Canadian Olympic Committee released a statement saying the organization was working closely with the RCMP on the matter.

"It was pretty tough," Boutin told the CBC's Charlsie Agro. "I'm a sensitive person."

When the death threats emerged, the 33-year-old Hamelin called for his teammates to rally around their hurting colleague.

"He made a circle and he said to me like, 'It's okay. It's because you're strong that people are like that. Don't worry about that and just focus about your next race,'" Boutin recalled.

'I cried a lot'

The fear nearly overcame Boutin in the hour before her second Olympic race.

"Of course, it scared me," she said of the threats. "And just after my warm-up, I cried. I cried a lot, because I was scared. But I have a pretty awesome team behind me."

On Saturday, Boutin skated out in front and left the pack in chase mode. With two laps to go, Choi made her move.The South Korean skater claimed gold in  two minutes, 24.948 seconds, China's Li Jinyu seized silver in 2:25.703 and Boutin collected bronze in 2:25.834

The bronze might as well be gold given the ordeal Boutin faced in the last four days.

"We decided to just put it in a positive way," said St Gelais, who was disqualified in the second straight race. "February 13 was the day she won her first Olympic medal and that's what we decided to focus on.

"Honestly, we don't really want to know the whole story, the whole details. What we want is to have Kim as focused as she is right now. I think she's been showing that she's stronger than everybody thought."

In 2016, Boutin took six months off from competitive skating to recharge and rebound from a severe case of burnout.

She did a lot of knitting. She read a lot of books. She studied special education at a college in Montreal.

Balance was the goal. She wanted to made speed skating part of her life as opposed to the only reason she woke up every morning.

Weighty expectations

The weight of being "the next one" can be hard for anyone to carry. Girard, too, is no stranger to pressure as he's lived with "the next Charles Hamelin" tag for the last three years.

On Saturday, he lived up to the hype in spite of crossing the finish line fourth in the semifinal (he advanced only after Hamelin was disqualified for tangling with a Korean skater — although the foul might have actually belonged to Girard.)

"Every medal has a story," Girard said. "I showed I earned my place in the 'A' final."

In the race, Girard maintained his composure right to the finish line, even with the loud bang of a roller-derby crash behind him.

"I was the guy at the front putting on a good pace, trying to put everyone in trouble, so they had to fight to try and pass me," Girard said. "Something happened at the back. I don't want to be there when those things happen."

For Hamelin and St. Gelais, it's no doubt difficult to be rink-side watching it all happen as the next generation takes over.

But they're handling it with grace. And honour.