Canadian short track championships: François Hamelin back from concussion

Short track speed skater François Hamelin knows the damage concussions can do and has even seen the recent hit movie about brain injuries, but says it won't stop him going all out on the track.

Skater gunning for spot on world championship team

Francois Hamelin, who at age 28 is enjoying his best season, says a concussion suffered last month in China was his third or fourth and probably the worst he's had. (Darron Cummings/The Associated Press)

Short track speed skater François Hamelin knows the damage concussions can do and has even seen the recent hit movie about brain injuries, but says it won't stop him going all out on the track.

The younger brother of short-track star Charles Hamelin is coming off the worst of the four concussions he has suffered in his wild, high-speed sport and will be back at it for the Canadian championships this weekend at the Maurice Richard Arena.

Hamelin, of Ste-Julie, Que., was enjoying his best season since he broke into international competition in 2007 when he was involved in a three-skater wipeout at a meet in Shanghai in December.

"At first I thought it was a normal crash, but watching the video, one guy just completely fell on my head," he said Wednesday. "I was out for about 30 seconds.

"When I woke up it was kind of weird. It was really scary."

It may have played a part in an incident he found frightening in another way — forgetting the bag holding his precious custom-made skate boots in an overhead bin when the flight back from Shanghai landed in Toronto.

A few days later his boots were found — on Dec 18, his 29th birthday — although he was unable to train for a week and a half while going through concussion protocol. He feels he has completely recovered.

Hamelin was aware of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a disease caused by repetitive brain trauma that has been found in many ex-athletes in contact sports. He had three concussions early in his career before getting his fourth in Shanghai, but says it is not comparable to what football or hockey players go through.

But friends still encouraged him to go see the movie "Concussion" about brain injuries in the National Football League.

"They asked me if I was scared but I'm not more scared about it," said Hamelin. "Those kinds of bad situations where guys go crazy or they get disease from that, they had thousands of hits.

"I'm not falling every day. That hit was huge. I blacked out completely. But it's one hit. I haven't had that kind of hit for seven years. I don't feel like we get hit so many times that we'll get to the point of having a hard time to live.

"We had some skaters that had really bad concussions and still struggle with it, like headaches and (being) a little dizzy, but I want to skate. I'm going to keep doing my sport as long as I can and this is not the kind of thing that will stop me or scare me when I'm skating. I don't think of it at all."

Hamelin was having a career season that included medals in three straight meets and a first ever gold in an individual distance (500 metres) at Nagoya, Japan, a week before Shanghai.

At the Canadian championships, he'll be gunning for a spot on the six-man team for the final two World Cups in February and the world championships March 11-13 in Seoul.

He has always skated in the shadow of his brother Charles, who at 31 remains one of the world's best. Francois Hamelin has a relay gold medal from the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, but consistent results in individual distances have been elusive.

"I always had this potential where you can be really good and there was always something stopping me," he said. "I think it's in my head."

The meet marks the return of veteran Olivier Jean, who skated in the first four long-track World Cups this season and is still deciding which sport to focus on for the 2018 Winter Games.

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