Critics aplenty for Canada's short-track effort
Former Olympic medallist Mathieu Turcotte and national team coach Guy Thibault are among those puzzled by the strategy put forth by Canada in Saturday's short-track loss in the men's 1000-metre final.
Brothers Charles and Francois Hamelin were the two skaters left off podium in a five-man Olympic final, with South Korea winning gold and silver ahead of American Apolo Ohno.
Turcotte, now a skate developer, said it was strange for Canadian Charles Hamelin to skate so fast from the beginning of the final, given that his competitors would have expected him to do just that.
"Apolo Ohno is a smart, experienced skater, the Koreans have a good coach that could give them advice as well, and they've been racing together for six years, all those [Korean] skaters," Turcotte said in an interview.
"So, coming down to this final yesterday it was a weird strategy to use. I can't say it was the best one or not."
Canadian short-track speedskating luminary Marc Gagnon was dismissed as an embittered killjoy a year ago when he publicly railed against the Canadian team's training and skills.
"The Koreans, it's not complicated, they train better and more than we do," the five-time Olympic medallist told the Quebec media shortly after a disappointing world championship in Austria in March 2009.
"Were not progressing, we're regressing."
Former Canadian Olympic team coach Guy Thibault said Gagnon was right when he said Canada needed to adapt to the changes in technique and strategy that the South Koreans were bringing to the sport.
"The Koreans and Ohno, they're not afraid of the Canadians anymore," Thibault told The Canadian Press. "They know how they're racing, they know what they're going to do, and what they need to do."
Thibault was let go from the short-track team after a disappointing showing at the 2006 Turin Games of only four medals.
The team goal this time around is six, a target team leader Yves Hamelin has acknowledged will be very difficult to hit.
Thibault says he made recommendations in a parting report to Speed Skate Canada that mirrored what Gagnon had said, and then applied what he learned to the American team.
Thibault believes his views were taken seriously, but a couple of years is not enough to adopt some of what the South Koreans are doing — such as daily practice in making long, outside passes.
"There's no way around it, that type of training … It's a long process. People are just trying to adapt to the new way."
The South Korean style was precisely what foiled Canada on Saturday.
Charles Hamelin, the world record holder, shocked Thibault and other seasoned observers when he skated the entire race at the front of the pack, leaving three of the most cunning skaters in the world to lie back and plot their medal-winning passes in the final lap.
Even more dumbfounding to them was the fact Hamelin's brother Francois was also in the final, and could have been the one to skate out front and let Charles, the world record holder at the distance, conserve his energy.
Turcotte believes Canada needs to focus on the youngsters joining the sport, as the South Koreans have done for the past two decades.
"Supporting the top athlete is going to make a difference between a final or a semifinal, or a silver to a gold medal, but really to have super champions or very talented athletes that are going to win consistently, you have start at the base and focus on a lot of skaters and bring them up for a long time."
But Thibault, Turcotte and Yves Hamelin all agree that the team's luck might change in their last two nights of competition in Vancouver. Canadians are generally strong contenders in the 500 metres and in the relay races, meaning a possible harvest of four medals.
"The 500 metres requires an explosiveness and pure power, and that is one of the strengths we have," Hamelin said.