Charles Hamelin strikes short track gold, ties Canadian medal record in final Olympic race
Long tracker Cindy Klassen also earned 6 medals at a Winter Games
Canada, say hello to speed skater Charles Hamelin: Short track legend and your co-record holder for most medals in the Olympic Winter Games.
Competing in his fifth and final Games, Hamelin helped the men's relay team secure gold on Wednesday in Beijing, the 37-year-old's sixth career Olympic podium to match long track speed skater Cindy Klassen and his fourth in the 5,000-metre event.
Hamelin, Steven Dubois, Jordan Pierre-Gilles, and Pascal Dion crossed the finish line in six minutes 41.257 seconds after taking bronze in the men's relay four years ago in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
The victory also moved Hamelin into a tie with women's hockey players Hayley Wickenheiser, Caroline Ouellette and Jayna Hefford for the most gold by a Canadian at either the Summer or Winter Games.
The native of Sainte-Julie, Que., is expected to retire following the March 18-20 short track world championships in Montreal.
"Finishing [my career] with a gold [medal] it can't be better than that. It's the best win ever," Hamelin told Roseline Filion of Radio-Canada. "We worked really hard for the last four years just to be here and be in the [medal] final."
South Korea captured silver (6:41.679) and Italy bronze (6:43.431) at Capital Indoor Stadium.
WATCH | Hamelin makes history in final Olympic short track race:
"This is just amazing. What a way to finish a career, an Olympic career," Hamelin's fiancée Geneviève Lefebvre-Tardif told CBC News Network's Heather Hiscox as Hamelin's father Yves nodded in agreement. "[A] gold medal [and] a perfect race."
He's really passionate about what he does, and [then] there's Vivi. That's better than a gold medal and she saw Papa win his last gold medal.— Charles Hamelin's fiancee, Genevieve Lefebvre-Tardif, on their daughter Violette
During the race, Lefebvre-Tardif was holding daughter Violette, nicknamed Vivi, who was crying because her mother and grandfather were yelling at the TV.
"We talked to [Charles] and opened a bottle of champagne. He just said he's on cloud nine right now," Lefebvre-Tardif, a sports journalist, said. "I told him [to] just enjoy the moment. We're so proud of him.
"He's really passionate about what he does, and [then] there's Vivi. That's better than a gold medal and she saw Papa win his last gold medal. It's the best end of a chapter, it couldn't be better."
WATCH | 'A perfect race,' says Hamelin's fiancée Geneviève Lefebvre-Tardif:
Hamelin, who helped the Canadian squad to Olympic silver in 2006, gold in 2010 and bronze in 2018, has also earned 142 World Cup medals and 34 at world championships, including 14 gold.
He placed 19th in the men's 1,500 earlier at these Games after helping carry the Canadian flag into the opening ceremony in China with women's hockey star Marie-Philip Poulin.
In Wednesday's race, Canada went in front with 27 of the 45 laps remaining and dropped to third four laps later before Dubois regained the lead with 21 laps left when a Korean skater missed on an attempted move to the inside. Dubois skated the final two laps, crossing the finish line ahead of his South Korean rival.
"When we passed [our opponents] we just hit the gas and we said, 'Catch us if you can.' And they didn't," Hamelin said.
Former Canadian short tracker Michael Gilday, who was Hamelin's relay teammate in Sochi, Russia, described the performance as a "fairy-tale ending" to a storied short track career for Hamelin.
"I think he's still at the top of his game, but it's nice to go out on top," said Gilday, who has worked as a short track analyst for CBC Sports during these Games.
Gilday, who retired from the sport eight years ago, noted Canada delivered a near-perfect execution of a relay in the final.
"Their exchanges were pristine the whole [race] which is super important," he said. "They were well-positioned, too, never worse than third, and they moved at opportune times.
"I think it was [Pierre-Gilles], there was a little gap created and he immediately seized the opportunity and they were in second [place]. The same thing when they [took the lead]. They saw a little slip by the Koreans, their exchanges were perfect and they were able to take advantage."
'A moment in history'
Yves, who coached Charles and his brothers, Francois and Mathieu from a young age, said he had several pre-race scenarios in his head.
"[They] moved from third to second very smoothly [after 15 laps] without [expending a lot of] energy," he said. "Later, taking the [lead] they had the legs [and built] speed to keep [South Korea] behind.
"It's a [special] moment seeing the coaches giving huge hugs to the boys. It's a moment in history and we were feeling the emotion between these guys. So much work to get there but now they have the sense of achieving it."
For Dubois, the relay gold was medal No. 3 from his Olympic debut after earning bronze in the men's 500 on Sunday and men's 1,500 silver a week ago. The 24-year-old from Terrebonne, Que., nearly reached the podium on Feb. 5 as a member of the mixed relay team that placed fourth after being penalized.
"I wanted a sample of every medal," he said, smiling, as he teammates laughed. "My dream was to win with these guys that I just forgot about my [previous] two."
Ottawa long-track speed skater Isabelle Weidemann also won a gold, bronze and silver on the Ice Ribbon oval in Beijing.
Dubois arrived in Beijing coming off his first individual medal of the season with silver in the 500 to wrap up the World Cup season in Dordrecht, Netherlands. He was fourth in the 1,500 at the 2019 world championships in Sofia, Bulgaria, and the following year picked up silver in a triple-medal effort at the Four Continents championships in Montreal.
Boutin, Sarault eliminated in women's 1,500m semis
Elsewhere on Wednesday, Canada's Kim Boutin and Courtney Sarault were eliminated in their respective women's 1,500 semifinals while first-time Olympian Danaé Blais of Châteauguay, Que., fell of the pace in her quarter-final and didn't record a time.
Sarault, the world's third-ranked skater in the distance from Moncton, N.B., missed tying Dutchwoman Xandra Velzeboer by 0.013 seconds to advance as the fastest third-place finisher.
Boutin and Sarault went on to finish 3-4 in the B final in 2:45.568 and 2:45.606, respectively.
Boutin, who earned Olympic bronze in the event four years ago but missed the podium in her lone World Cup 1,500 race this season, collected her second straight bronze in the women's 500 on Feb. 7. The Sherbrooke, Que., native also appeared a lock to push for a medal in the 1,000 until she tumbled on the final curve in the quarter-finals.
The four career medals leaves the 27-year-old one shy of Canadian ice dancer Scott Moir and former short trackers Francois-Louis Tremblay and Marc Gagnon.
Choi retains 1,500m title
Choi Minjeong of South Korea successfully defended her Olympic title in the women's 1,500, posting a time of two minutes 17.789 seconds to extend the tradition of Asian dominance in the event.
Arianna Fontana of Italy took silver by two-thousandths of a second over world champion Suzanne Schulting of the Netherlands. It was Fontana's 11th career Olympic medal and third in Beijing.
Schulting earned her fourth medal in Beijing after placing second in the 500 and winning the 1,000 and 3,000 relay.
With files from The Associated Press