Hamelin overcame a weak start to win bronze in the 500-metre race behind winner Wu Dajing of China and American J.R. Celski on Saturday at the world short track speed skating championship.
The Ste-Julie, Que., skater cut to the outside in a desperate bid for the win and came close to catching Celski at the finish line with the large crowd at the Maruice Richard Arena in a frenzy.
"The four guys in that final were the four best 500-metre skaters in the world, so it was tough," said Hamelin, who was coming off a win in the 1,500-metre event on Friday. "I made a little mistake at the beginning.
"I got passed by the Russian (Victor An) and was back in fourth place. I had a lot of speed. I went outside. It was my last option. I tried my best and was almost second."
The 29-year-old, who has twice been runner-up for the overall title but never won it, leads the standings heading into the final two individual events — the 1,000 and 3,000 metres — on Sunday. An, a five-time overall world champion formerly known as Ahn Hyun-Soo, finished fourth.
Park Seung-Hi of South Korea won the women's 500-metres ahead of Elise Christie of Britain and Fan Kexin of China.
Disaster struck for the Canadian team in the men's relay semifinals when veteran Olivier Jean got caught in traffic and missed an exchange with Hamelin with only eight laps to go.
The mishap dropped Canada from second to last place among the four teams and they couldn't catch up. Only the top two, Russia and Britain, earned a spot in Sunday's relay final.
"We got passed by the Chinese guy on the corner where we exchanged and it got mixed up.," said Michael Gilday of Yellowknife. "We didn't get our exchange in until a lap later and the other teams had already launched away.
"Olivier was supposed to exchange with Charles on the corner where he got pushed out. There were a bunch of skaters and they couldn't tag together. It was a mess."
At the Sochi Olympics three weeks ago, Canada's favoured relay team was eliminated in the semifinals when Francois Hamelin stepped on a marker disc and fell.
"That's short track," said Gilday. "It sucks. Clearly we haven't had the breaks this year."
South Korea and the Netherlands will also contest the men's relay final. Canada will have a team in the women's final.
Jean opted not to talk to the media. The Lachanie, Que. skater, who was celebrating his 30th birthday, had been eliminated in the 500-metre quarter-finals along with Charle Cournoyer of Boucherville, Que., the bronze medallist in the event in Sochi.
Marianne St-Gelais of St. Felicien, Que., and Marie-Eve Drolet of Laterriere, Que., were both ousted in the women's semifinals.
"I'm pretty happy, actually, because it's not my best distance," said Drolet, who will have a better shot at a medal in the 1,000-metre race. "I'm not a great sprinter, so it was super-fun to see that I could be fast and do a good race."
St-Gelais said she may have psyched herself out before her semifinal because of an outside starting position.
"I think I got scared at the (starting) line," she said. "I was thinking I would be squished behind two girls. Usually I don't think about those kinds of things, but that idea crossed my mind just before the start. I knew my race was done at that point."
It was a happier day for Christie, who was shut out of the medals in Sochi after being penalized three times.
The Scottish skater shot out to the lead off the start, only to be passed on the next-to-last lap by Park. It looked like the two might collide, but Christie said she backed off of any contact.
"I probably could have won, but in the back of my head I was thinking about the fact that I got penalties, so when Park came through I let her go," said Christie. "I didn't try to get past because I just didn't want to get another penalty, to be honest."
Christie came to the world championship seeking to redeem the Sochi setback and now is looking forward to her best event, the 1,000-metres.
"It is my beat distance, but again, I'll be racing quite withdrawn," she said. "I'm trying to stay out of fights and stuff, so that could play to my disadvantage. But maybe now that I've got a medal, I might just go for it."
Park won bronze in the 1,500-metres on Friday. She was a gold medallist in the 1,000-metre and the women's relay and got bronze in the 500-metres in Sochi. The Olympic 500-metre champion, Li Jiarrou of China, is not competing at the world championship.