When will the ‘old man’ lose his groove?

When will the ‘old man’ lose his groove?

'No one has the answer — not even me'

By Charles Hamelin for CBC Sports
December 6, 2018

I have been practising speed skating for 26 years now.

I am in my 16th season on the international circuit, where I have won more than 150 medals. I participated in four Olympic Games, and made five podiums. I'm 34 years old now! Many would say: “That's enough. Time to move on.” And while it is true that the end may be on the horizon, I do not see myself finishing my career right away.

Canadian speed skating great Charles Hamelin isn't satisfied with past glory. (Submitted by Stéphanie Jutra) Canadian speed skating great Charles Hamelin isn't satisfied with past glory. (Submitted by Stéphanie Jutra)

The number of games, medals, years on the ice, age … to my eyes, those are just numbers. My body is still in excellent shape. I have as much fun as ever in training, and I still love winning. The day when my achievements no longer give me satisfaction and I skate without the urge to push for great results is when I guarantee the decision will be easy to make that day.

Skating for me is a passion. Presenting myself at the arena out of a sense of obligation does not interest me at all. I see lots of passionate young skaters every day. I will leave at the right time, but we are not there yet — far from it. A lot has changed in 16 years. I have rubbed shoulders with so many skaters, and several generations of teams. I shared an Olympic podium with a teammate who recently became my coach, Éric Bédard. That’s a situation few skaters have faced.


In fact, I am not sure if it has ever happened before. That athlete-coach partnership is one of the reasons why I am still happy to get up and train every morning. My role on the team has obviously changed over time. I liked being the youngster of the Olympic group in Torino 2006, but I loved being the one who led by example since Vancouver in 2010. With each passing year, the team leadership responsibility incrementally increases, and I am aware of that natural shift.


My impact

The impact I have on the national team group has gradually gained momentum. After winning the title of Canadian champion two, three, four and five times — whether you like it or not — a certain status comes with it. So it's up to the athlete to use that as well as possible. I have always advocated for setting a good example. I have an obsession with wanting to control the uncontrollable and being as precise as possible in everything I do.

Cutting corners? No thanks. I hope this is what I will be remembered for. I have worked the same way throughout the years. I listen to coaches and professionals who support me, and I apply their advice to the best of my abilities. I rarely verbalize advice to others about how to do things or how to deal with situations. I am always open to answering questions, if teammates have them, and if I can, that always makes me very happy. But in preparation, practice and competition, we all have our role and the support team is there to make the necessary corrections. My role is to demonstrate the right attitude and the best possible example. I am not perfect, but there is something to learn from in my daily conduct.


I have reached that point in my career where I have won almost everything I can. A 1000-metre Olympic gold medal would still be nice, heh-heh! And I continue because I feel that I still have something to contribute to my sport. How much juice to squeeze out of this lemon? The worst scenario would be to withdraw with regrets. That is not the conclusion I would seek after all these years in this wonderful sport.


Reality check

My choice may not necessarily translate into an impressive crop of medals in the next few years. That fact is certainly on my mind, but reconnecting with the podium would give me a beautiful smile of satisfaction. It's always a great reward and a great source of motivation for both the athlete and the coach. Beyond the results, I think that my contribution to team training is beneficial for the overall program.


I also want to be an excellent partner for the relay — that may be a very impressive team for the next years. I will not shrink away from my individual performances, but now I see that role as part of the whole contribution. I know that I can still win distances at World Cup events and the world championships. I did it last March. But I have learned in recent years to value the process. This is the new reality of short track. If you only think about winning medals, you risk total disappointment. Competitive levels are constantly changing. Gone are the days of superheroes who could reach the podium in virtually every distance they attempt. You have to be sharp and fully present on game day now.

Watch Hamelin capture world title on home soil

I do not know for how long I will train this hard, every day — to go around in circles as quickly as possible. My actions and accomplishments have an impact beyond Canada. I am aware that for every medal won and every competition I take part in, I am entering my sport’s record books. Without false modesty, I know that I have an extraordinary career. Adding to the accolades has never been a motivation in my career, but it will spice up the stories I tell my future children.

There is certainly additional pressure that comes with a successful career. The eyes are often turned on me, whether I win or not. When will old Hamelin lose his groove? It’s a fair question, but no one has the answer - not even me. I hope that everything will hold until the next Olympic Games. I stay focused on the game plan though. One year at a time. Be realistic. It doesn’t help to project desires too far into the future. Live in the moment, continue to apply myself and concentrate on the task at hand.  I will focus on every little detail that leads to the starting line, hoping to win one more.

(Large photos submitted by Balboa Sport)

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