SPORTS

Charles Hamelin still king of short track

11/13/2014 11:21 EST | Updated 01/13/2015 05:59 EST
It's like historic Maurice Richard Arena in the east end of this Olympic city is his personal playground.

Charles Hamelin, an unassuming 30 year old from St–Julie, Que., seems, at times, to hover regally over the frozen surface on this sacred pond. He creates the impression that while he might not be able to walk on water, he most certainly can skate on it.

And why shouldn't that be?

Hamelin is the anointed one...the accomplished one... the greatest Canadian short track speed skater of his generation.

By virtue of the three Olympic titles he's captured, not to mention the nine world championship gold medals that adorn his trophy case, he's established a lasting monarchy which governs Montreal's winter sports landscape. It is an exceedingly popular reign which may well last through another Olympic cycle.

It has teammates, coaches and fans unabashedly trumpeting the notion that for the beloved Hamelin there will be four more years and yet more territory to conquer when the next Winter Games roll around in 2018. And those Olympics will take place in the home of the other short track blue bloods, namely arch rival South Korea.

"I love what I do and I still have the legs to beat the young guys," Hamelin says of the pretenders to his throne.

They now populate the Canadian team which is in the midst of renewal post Sochi 2014.

"I want to keep being the best," he declares matter-of-factly. "And I want the young ones to be as good as I am now when I leave. They'll need to spend a few years with me to do that."

Hamelin is engaging, bright and supremely confident in an unoffending way. You never get the impression that he has any sense of entitlement. Rather you are given to understand that he's not yet ready to relinquish his hold on the reins of power in his sport.

"He still wants to learn," says his coach Derrick Campbell, himself an Olympic gold medallist.  "Charles is a pro.  He comes here with his lunch pail everyday, and he kicks his own ass in training. He leads the best way and that's by example."

Hamelin's teammates are literally in awe of him.

They covet what he has and his enduring place of prominence in their ranks. But they also unfailingly recognize that he still has what it takes to live in rarified air when it comes to international short track competition.

"The first word that comes to mind is beast," chuckles Guillaume Bastille, a teammate who joined Hamelin on the relay squad that won Olympic gold at the 2010 Games in Vancouver. "He just keeps going. He's pretty sick with the flu here this weekend but I know at home in Montreal he's going to skate like a king again."

Cournoyer heir to Hamelin?

Charle Cournoyer may be Hamelin's heir apparent. He won Olympic bronze in Sochi in the 500m whereas Hamelin failed to make the final.

Still, Hamelin has twice been world champion in the same discipline and established the fact he can win at any distance as he did in Russia by capturing the 1,500m title.

"I said to him that I was really glad that he didn't quit skating," Cournoyer grins playfully. "That's because now I have time to beat him someday."

Don't count on it.

Hamelin goes all out, all the time to protect his turf.

"He just told me the other day that he has 151 international medals to his credit," offers an amazed Yoan Gauthier, who is a decade younger than Hamelin and entering his first senior international season.

"When he said that to me I realized that I have no medals and all of a sudden he's my roommate on the road at the first World Cup in Utah. And also that he's my friend. Wow!"

Hamelin inspires that kind of allegiance.

No one questions his motivation or his claim to be the leader of the pack. But they all know he is at least partially driven by the one speed skating jewel which has so far eluded his grasp. While he has individually been the master of every distance, he has never been the world all-around champion.

"I don't have it," Hamelin says abruptly as his eyes widen."I want it and I will do everything in my power to be called the world champion at least once in my career."

You would never want to contradict him or disbelieve his ability to turn the trick. That's because Charles Hamelin still rules the roost in Montreal. And throughout short track speed skating's sphere of influence, word of his impending abdication has yet to be heard.

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