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Charles Hamelin has sterling Olympic legacy, despite crashes on Sochi’s soft ice

Neate Sager
Eh Game

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Hamelin's crash ended his 2014 Olympics (David J. Phillip, AP)

There is Charles Hamelin, the competitor and lynchpin of Canada's short track team. Then there is the Charles Hamelin that Canada wished to live through for a couple of weeks, watching him rack up golds as automatically as frequent flier miles.

Keeping the two separate helps with sorting out the legacy, which is complicated following the denouement of the short-track star's third Olympics on Tuesday. The 29-year-old from Ste-Julie, Que., was talked up as a possibility to win four medals. Sportsnet magazine had him on the cover of its Olympic preview alongside a POISED FOR WORLD DOMINATION headline. Hamelin set the bar at being a double gold medallist for the second Olympics in a row. Instead, after crashes in the first heat of both the men's 500 and 1,000 metres on the possibly overused and over-watered ice at the Iceberg Skating Palace, Hamelin will leave with one.

“Short track is a sport that can be really exciting and can be really, really glorious for some people,” Hamelin said following his crash in the 500, where he took a long time to collect himself privately before addressing the media. “And sometimes it can be really rude and really cruel for some other people.”

[Related:  Charles Hamelin crashes again, women’s 3,000 relay takes silver]

The truth, though, might reside in the irony that the gold came in the 1,500. Based on Hamelin's history, shaped up as his "longest-shot medal." That might be an indicator of how special a run Hamelin, who's on the bubble to re-up for 2018 ("Maybe, maybe"), has had across the past three quadrennials.

That versatility is what sets a great competitor, in any discipline, aside from their counterparts who are merely capable of winning on a particular day. That suggests Hamelin deserves a high rung in Canada's winter Olympic canon.

Never been done

The fact of the matter is that prior to these Olympics, no short-track speed skater had ever won four career golds. As well, no man had ever defended his 500 gold. The notion that Hamelin would have to break two barriers probably got lost in the fog of hype.

Short track is also brutally random, with its frequent crashes and disqualifications for bumping other skaters. The ice problems that Hamelin's coach and father, Yves Hamelin, cited following Tuesday's races added another layer of difficulty for the quest for multiple golds. People don't like hearing excuses and, yes, the ice is the same for every skater. It is plausible to think it would throw a skater who wins regularly on the World Cup circuit off more than it would affect an also-ran. Whatever the reason, Charles Hamelin's number came up.

From Grant Robertson:

Yves suspects the problem is due to too much water being used to resurface the ice. Heavy flooding after each use creates a weaker layer on top, which is bad for short-track skating.

After the figure skating ice dance wrapped late Monday night, two resurfacing machines that clean the rink at the Ice Palace could be seen using large amounts of water - visibly much more water than is employed between periods at a National Hockey League game, for example - to prepare the surface for short track.

And during the competition Tuesday, ice crews dumped large buckets of water on the corners, spreading it out with squeegees to try to repair divots and skate grooves.

... "It's a bad day again for [Charles], but he was in control," Yves said. "It's as simple as that, unfortunately."(Globe & Mail)

He might have crashed more than your friends' toddler, but based on the dispatches from the arena, Charles Hamelin handled it with grace. One wouldn't have to scour Google too hard for instances of disappointed veteran Olympians who have put their anger ahead of everything.

[Related: CBC at the Sochi Olympics: The hits and the misses]

Hamelin wanted to "destroy everything" after his fall; perhaps his younger self would have urged. What was done was done, though, and girlfriend Marianne St-Gelais had had her own fall and had to regroup for the women's 3,000 relay. So Hamelin sequestered himself in a bathroom stall, so his anguish wouldn't be a distraction to other competitors. That suggests sportsmanship, along with a person realizing that in a mature relationship, sometimes you can't put your issues on to the partner.

Refreshingly, he didn't feel the need to tack the cliched, "sorry, Canada" on to his media post-mostem.

"I would do exactly the same thing because that’s how I race, and that’s how I win my race," Hamelin said. "It was just bad luck."

And bad ice. It is too soon to say whether the relative meager two-medal showing in short-track is a microcosm of the Games for Canada. The country, now up to 17 medals, is in dangers of winning fewer medals than it did four years earlier for the first time since Lake Placid in 1980. (Canada won 26 as the host in 2010.) Ultimately, Hamelin took his shot at beating the odds, but in short track, the house always win. Three golds in a career and rock-star status in Quebec will look very good in time.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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