Charles Hamelin laughs as he considers whether he’d be competing in a fourth Olympics had his third appearance at the Winter Games, four years ago in Sochi, not gone off the rails quite like it did.
“Maybe not,” the three-time Olympic champion said in a recent interview with Sportsnet. “It’s a question that I ask myself. If everything would have gone to plan, maybe I would have decided: I’ve done everything that I can do, and let’s move on.”
But everything in Sochi didn’t go according to plan for the 10-time world champion, one of the most decorated short-track speedskaters in Canadian history. It’s a funny thing to say considering Hamelin won 1,500-metre gold in 2014. But in both the 1,000-m. and 500-m. races, where he was among the favourites, he fell and failed to finish.
It was a far cry from his appearance four years earlier at the Vancouver Winter Games, when Hamelin captured this country’s attention with gold medals in the 500-m. and as part of the relay team.
And so, the 33-year-old from Saint-Julie, Que., enters South Korea with unfinished business, including a chance to win a first Olympic medal at 1,000-m. In the 1,500-m race on Saturday, Hamelin qualified for the final, but was penalized for an error in the middle of the race and he didn’t place. He has a couple more shots at the podium here in Pyeongchang, however.
The reason he’s at these Winter Games in the first place is in large part because of his fiancée, fellow skater and three-time Olympic silver medallist Marianne St-Gelais, and his coach, Derrick Campbell, who convinced Hamelin to keep skating after Sochi.
“I was faster, stronger, fitter and better technically, and I was improving in my race skills,” Hamelin explains. “I was talking with my coach and with Marianne and just thought, ‘I’m still improving, why stop now? I’m sure I can do four more years.’ And here I am.”
Here he is, and with a far different role than we’ve seen him occupy at past Olympics. He was the favourite four years ago. Now he’s the wily veteran on a team stacked with medal hopefuls, competing in what will likely be his final Games. Hamelin won his last world championship in 2016, at 1,000-m., and in 2017 won bronze at that same distance.
“I’m the veteran of the team by far,” he says, with a laugh. “I want to have good results, but I also want to make sure that the Canadian team — all the young guys with me — have good results also.”
Among the group of 15 or so skaters in Montreal who train together, “there’s some guys who are 19, 20,” he says. “I just want to give them the good path to have success.”
Hamelin believes he’s improved in his leadership role as he’s aged, but if you ask Charle Cournoyer, who won 500-m. bronze in his Olympic debut four years ago, Hamelin needn’t say a thing to be a leader for this team.
“I’ve learned everything from him,” the 26-year-old Cournoyer explains. “When I first came on the national team three years before the last Olympic Games, he was the big guy — he still is the big guy. I learned from just looking at him. That’s how I qualified for my first Games, by learning and looking at him and adjusting my game, my instinct.”
The man who captured this nation’s attention with a double gold performance in Vancouver eight years ago is back for one last crack. And he acknowledges those two slips in Sochi might have been a good thing, after all.
“It was Marianne who told me, ‘Maybe it’s just destiny, it was not the end for you,’” Hamelin says. “She was right.”