Canadian spirits were dashed at the Gangneung Ice Arena on Saturday night with the men’s 1500m short track speed skating final yielding heartbreak for the red and white.
An event that brought gold to Canada four years ago at Sochi 2014, saw the winner of that medal – legendary speed skater Charles Hamelin – penalized at PyeongChang 2018. Hamelin’s protégé, Sam Girard, finished fourth, that most agonizing of places off the Olympic podium – or would be but for the relatively sunny disposition of an optimistic 21-year-old.
“I was looking like maybe for a disqualification and a podium, but I’m really happy with fourth place, just the experience there, and living it, I’m really happy about that,” Girard said after the race.
Short track often devolves into full contact skating, but the rules require one to be absolutely on their best behaviour. Sometimes mistakes can’t be avoided. While Girard was clean, same couldn’t be said for his mentor Hamelin, who was judged to have bumped a competitor while trying to move out of a crowd, assessing him a penalty and last place in the nine-man field.
“Of course I wanted to have a better result, but this is short track,” Hamelin, 33, said after the race, taking ownership for what happened on the ice. “In short track anything can happen, and I (made) a mistake in the middle of the race.”
Hamelin said he anticipated at the moment of the contact that there would be a ruling, but in those situations they “could go either way.” At best if another skater was judged to have caused the infraction, Hamelin might’ve finished fifth or sixth, he said, but that too would’ve left him well short of the podium and satisfaction.
Now at his fourth and final Olympic Games, having found the podium in Turin (relay silver), Vancouver (500 metre, and relay gold), and Sochi, Hamelin would like to finish strong, but he’s aware that his legacy to the sport is much more than the medals around his neck. The upshot of Hamelin’s career is the arrival of the next generation of Canadian talent, like Girard.
“If I can take some positive out of this it’s that I was able to make the day with Samuel,” Hamelin said. “I was able to make the (qualifying) rounds with him, and the whole day I was able to bring him where he needed to be” mentally and physically.
“Sam is a really good friend, I’m rooming with him the last two seasons, and I’m not always there to tell him do this or do that, I’m just there to give him examples,” Hamelin said, referring to the preparations required to compete at the highest level.
Girard is appreciative of his mentor and hopes before the end of the Games, Hamelin will once again grace the steps of an Olympic podium. He wished it was on Saturday, but they’ll have more chances.
“This is the last Olympics for Charles. I wanted the gold medal for him,” Girard said. “I really wanted him to be on the podium, but a race with nine skaters has a lot of passes and falls, so things (can) happen.”
The race ended with Lim Hyojun of Korea bringing the host nation its first gold of the Games, while Sjinkie Knegt of the Netherlands was second. The third place prize was picked up by Semen Elistratov of the Olympic Athletes from Russia, just ahead of Girard in fourth.
Girard has been asked repeatedly if he’s ready to take over from Hamelin in Canadian short track speed skating. Given that his teacher has 10 world championship gold medals to his name, and for a period of time ruthlessly dominated the annual world cup circuit, matching his mentor will be no small feat for Girard. He has been paying attention, however.
“I think the most important thing (Hamelin) showed me is you have to always be one-hundred percent in everything you’re doing, be it training or recovery. He’s always giving one-hundred percent in everything he is doing and that’s his best quality.”