For Canada’s short track speed skating team, the end of an era and the beginning of a new one has been on display at PyeongChang 2018.
That was highlighted on Thursday with Canadian veterans and Canadian youngsters both winning medals on the short track. 23-year-old Kim Boutin, in her first Olympic Games, won her third medal at PyeongChang, capturing silver in the women’s 1000m. Later that night, 33-year-old Charles Hamelin won his fifth career Olympic medal at his fourth Olympic Games, helping the men’s 5000m relay team win bronze.
“What we can remember is that we gave everything we got to win the gold,” said Hamelin after the race. “We left everything on the ice to make it happen.”
As Hamelin pointed out, short track speed skating can be a cruel sport. The unpredictability of what opponents will do can cause even the best race to go off the tracks in an instant – and the relay exchange adds even more unpredictability. A difficult exchange by the Canadians in the final laps on Thursday caused the team to lose ground.
“Just to be on the podium, it’s a beauty for us,” said Hamelin.
The bronze gives Hamelin five Olympic medals in his career, tying him as Canada’s most decorated male Olympian of all-time. PyeongChang has been a challenging Games for the Montreal resident, not skating to any individual medal wins. But a bronze in the relay on Thursday creates a nice ending for what is expected to be the end of Hamelin’s Olympic career.
One of the most iconic moments of Vancouver 2010 was Hamelin leaping into the arms of fellow short track speed skater – and his girlfriend – Marianne St-Gelais. Both Hamelin and St-Gelais are veterans on a Canadian squad that has some young stars and has shown plenty of promise for future Games.
Hamelin’s mentorship of Samuel Girard – the 21-year-old who picked up his second medal of PyeongChang with the relay bronze – has been well documented. On the women’s side, St-Gelais has inspired many of Canada’s next generation of speed skaters.
“She had a really beautiful career,” said Boutin. “She’s always there every time I win a medal and every time I’m not. She needs to be proud about who she is right now. She improved a lot – not just in her sport but in her life too. She was a really good inspiration to me since I was young. To have her beside me at my first Olympics, it helped me take a breath and just enjoy the moment.”
Boutin has been a star at these Games, becoming Canada’s first triple medallist of PyeongChang with one silver and two bronze. While St-Gelais, a three-time silver medallist, will leave South Korea without a medal, her legacy in the sport in Canada will carry on as one of Canada’s great short track speed skaters.
Boutin was sandwiched between Suzanne Schulting of the Netherlands, who won gold, and Italy’s Arianna Fontana, who took the bronze in Thursday’s race. The Canadian said she doesn’t worry too much about strategy when she is on the ice.
“I’m not really a person that is fixed in strategy. My body knows what it can do in a race so I take the opportunity. I don’t have any strategy – but I know that I really like skating in front,” laughed Boutin.
“I really enjoyed the moment today. My race was fine on the ice and I really enjoyed it.”
As with every Olympics, the short track saw its collection of jubilation and disappointment for Canada. While this may have been the final Games for some of the country’s great skaters, it was also the beginning of an exciting new era of Canadian racers. First-time Olympian Pascal Dion, who was part of the Canadian relay team along with Hamelin, Girard and Charle Cournoyer, expects big things from the team moving forward.
“In the next four years we’re going to work even harder to make even better teams for the next games,” said Dion.