A star of international short track speed skating since the mid-2000s and the current winner of 13 world titles and 40 world championship medals, Charles Hamelin is also a three-time Olympic champion. In winning a fifth Olympic medal in the 5,000m relay at PyeongChang 2018, he equalled the Canadian record in the discipline and remains hungry for more medals, despite having turned 34.
Short track speed skating has always been a passion in the Hamelin family. Father Yves was the head of the Canadian national team between 2006 and 2014, while his sons Charles, François and Mathieu are all skaters. The oldest of the siblings, Charles has led the way in terms of international experience, titles and medals.
Hamelin won his first Olympic medal in Turin’s Palavela arena in 2006, when he teamed up with Eric Bédard, François-Louis Tremblay and Mathieu Turcotte to take silver for Canada in the relay. They were denied the gold by the quartet from the Republic of Korea, who finished three-tenths of a second ahead of them in the final. Hamelin, still just 21, then signalled his potential as he finished fourth in the 1,500m. In fact, Turin served as a terrific springboard, as over the following four years the Canadian went on to establish himself as a major international force, twice winning the 500m world title. His sights were very much set on the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.
When Vancouver 2010 finally came around, Hamelin was in peak form, but his Games got off to a disappointing start, with him only managing fourth in the 1,500m and seventh in the 1,000m. However, on 26 February, he had two golden opportunities to transform his Games, as he lined up in the 500m final and then the 5,000m relay.
In the first of the two events, Hamelin produced a dream performance to win gold in front of an adoring home crowd, setting a new Olympic record in the process. He was joined on the podium by compatriot François-Louis Tremblay, who took bronze. However, there was no time for either of them to savour their achievements as within minutes they were back on the ice for the team event, in which they were joined by Olivier Jean and Hamelin’s younger brother, François, to implement what they had dubbed ‘Operation Cobra’.
The race for the medals was extremely close, with only four tenths of a second separating the four top teams. The Canadian quartet’s plan worked to perfection, as anchorman Tremblay broke free in the last few laps of the final leg to lead his team to victory - edging defending champions the Republic of Korea into second place. The crowd at the Pacific Coliseum went wild, and the picture of Hamelin’s girlfriend Marianne St-Gelais, herself a Vancouver short-track medallist, running down from the stand to embrace him, became one of the 2010 Games’ most iconic images.
In the four years leading up to Sochi 2014, Hamelin maintained his supreme form, collecting another 11 World Championship medals, including three consecutive golds in the 5,000m relay (2011, 2012, 2013). On 10 February 2014, the Canadian went into the 1,500m - the opening short-track event at Sochi’s Iceberg Skating Palace - as firm favourite, and he lived up to his billing in imperious fashion, sweeping aside his rivals to claim a third Olympic title.
The 29-year-old used all his experience to keep out of trouble, while several of his competitors fell to the ice and out of the competition. The USA’s J.R. Celski attempted to attack the Canadian with eight laps to go, but Hamelin countered two laps later to move to the front of the pack, where he remained until the finish, seeing off Han Tianyu and Victor An of Russia, who took silver and bronze respectively. “I couldn’t have dreamed of it going any better - returning to the Games and then winning gold in the 1,500m! In the last few years, people have said this distance was my weak spot, but I’ve worked hard to prove them wrong, and today I think I did just that.”
The 2013/14 season ended with Hamelin topping the 1,000m and 1,500m World Cup standings. In March 2014, he pocketed gold in the 1,500m at the world championships in Montreal, where he also took bronze in the 500m and the overall.
While continuing to shine on the World Cup stage, where he recorded his 37th individual race win in 2017, Hamelin added a 1,000m gold to his collection of World Championship medals in 2016 in Seoul, adding a 3,000m bronze and 5,000m relay and overall silvers for good measure. The following year the Canadian picked up a 1,000m bronze at the worlds in Rotterdam 2017, before heading to PyeongChang 2018 as one of Canada’s biggest short track medal hopes.
Things did not go Hamelin’s way in the individual events at his fourth Olympic Games, however. His 1,500m title defence ended in disqualification after he finished a long way behind the new champion, Lim Hyo-jun (KOR), and he suffered the same fate in the semi-finals of the 1,000m and the 500m heats.
Consolation came in the 5,000m relay, as Hamelin teamed up with Samuel Girard, Charles Cournoyer and Pascal Dion to win bronze behind China and gold medallists Hungary. It was the Quebec skater’s fifth Olympic medal, putting him level with Marc Gagnon and François-Louis Tremblay, the only other Canadian short track speed skaters to have won as many.
One month later, Hamelin was racing in front of his home fans at the 2018 World Championships in Montreal. Suitably inspired, he landed the 11th, 12th and 13th world golds of his career in winning the 1,000m, 1,500m and a maiden overall title. The silver he collected in the 5,000m relay saw him make a 40th visit to a world championship podium (13 golds, 14 silvers, and 13 bronzes).
“There were two titles missing in my career: the Olympic 1,000m and the world overall title, and to win the second here in Montreal… well, I’m just speechless,” said an emotional Hamelin after that long-awaited triumph. “To do it here in front of my family and my friends makes me feel young again. Why should I stop skating? There’s no way I’m stopping after this!”
Does that mean the great Hamelin is considering an appearance at Beijing 2022? “I’m going to reassess that on the way,” came the answer.
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