Speed skater Charles Hamelin still has more to give to short track
5-time Canadian Olympic medallist rejuvenated by young stars Sam Girard, Kim Boutin
It seemed like the perfect way to end Charles Hamelin's short track speed skating career.
This weekend's world championships are in Montreal — a mere 30-minute drive from his hometown of Ste-Julie, Que.
The 33-year-old Hamelin was coming off a bronze-medal performance in Pyeongchang, South Korea — his fifth career medal at the Winter Games — moving him into a tie as Canada's most-decorated male Olympian.
His successor, Sam Girard, seemed ready to take the torch from his mentor after a pair of medals and fourth-place finishes at his first Games.
The script was set for Hamelin's swan song but he wasn't quite done teaching.
The four-time Olympian announced Wednesday he was putting off retirement for at least another year.
"My role as a mentor, as a leader the last few years — I want to take this power and make sure that I complete my job and do everything I can to make short track better in Canada," Hamelin told CBC Sports.
Hamelin believes there's a lot of positives that he can bring to the team next season. Physically, he says his legs feel really good and he can still battle against the young Canadians on the national squad.
Being around Girard and fellow rising star Kim Boutin has rejuvenated Hamelin and he knew hanging up his skates would be a decision he'd soon regret.
"When you're with them 300 days a year, two times a day, you see them more than your own family. You get the mood that they have and the way they see life. That's exactly what happened to me in the last two years and one of the reasons I made the decision to continue and stick with those guys," Hamelin said.
'He looks exactly like me but better'
Hamelin has built a solid relationship in particular with Girard. That was evident throughout the Games as Hamelin put aside the disappointment of his individual results to cheer him on rinkside and celebrate his triumphs as if they were his own.
When Girard joined the national team, the two clicked right away. Hamelin sees a lot of himself in Girard, from his personality to his technique on the ice.
"In terms of how good his skating is and how strong he is at a young age, he looks exactly like me but better. Sam is only at the beginning of his career and the potential is huge. When he discovers what he can do, he'll do some damage on the ice," Hamelin said.
Hamelin wasn't shy in regards to Girard's ceiling. He believes the 21-year-old has what it takes to be the next world champion and helping Girard and the next generation make that leap is where Hamelin comes in.
"That's the main reason why I'm continuing short track. I feel that I can bring the kids to another level by giving examples of what to do in practice and competition, making sure that they're following a path that might help them reach the highest level as fast as they can," Hamelin said.
Open door policy
But perhaps Hamelin's most valuable contribution is the guidance he provides away from the rink. He has an open door policy with his teammates making it very clear they can approach him with any questions or if a situation is making them feel uncomfortable.
Hamelin recalls Boutin receiving death threats on her social media accounts after capturing bronze in the women's 500-metre final in Pyeongchang.
The 23-year-old was scared. Instead of having her special moment on the Olympic podium, she felt sad and undeserving of her first Olympic medal.
Hamelin awaited Boutin's return to the athlete's village from the medal ceremony only to see her in tears. At that point, the most important thing for Hamelin and his teammates was to make sure she realized that her medal was well-deserved more than anything.
"We did a big group hug altogether and I just told her, 'You don't have to put yourself through those emotions. You should be really happy of winning that medal. We're here for you if you want to talk [or] do anything to take your mind off it. We are proud and behind you 100 per cent to make sure you'll live the rest of the Games with a smile on your face,'" Hamelin said.
1 more Games?
Hamelin didn't confirm if Pyeongchang was indeed his last Olympics, with his focus squarely on worlds.
But Hamelin acknowledges those memories will start to flow in once the season is over. The Games will always be a part of him — the Olympic rings are tattooed across his back.
From podium finishes to representing Canada alongside his compatriots, Hamelin has truly embraced the entire Olympic journey.
"Taking part in my fourth Olympics was really special. I'm really proud of what I did and the team I was part of because if you look back and see the results we had, we were the best [Canadian] team ever in the Winter Olympics," Hamelin said.