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Canada's Charles Hamelin (R) kisses his girlfriend Marianne St-Gelais as he celebrates his gold medal after the men's 500 metres short track speed skating final at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, February 26, 2010. (JERRY LAMPEN)
Canada's Charles Hamelin (R) kisses his girlfriend Marianne St-Gelais as he celebrates his gold medal after the men's 500 metres short track speed skating final at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, February 26, 2010. (JERRY LAMPEN)

VANCOUVER 2010 ONE YEAR LATER

Success pays off for golden couple Add to ...

What might look to most eyes like Olympic gold and silver takes on an entirely different aspect for Marianne St-Gelais and Charles Hamelin.

Others may just see medals; they also see a spiffy new condo.

The short-track speed skaters - immortalized by their spontaneous kiss following Hamelin's breathless victory in the men's 500 metres on the final Saturday of the 2010 Winter Olympics - had been thinking about new lodgings before the Games, but their four combined podium finishes (two golds for Hamelin, matching silvers for St-Gelais) provided the clincher.

"All of a sudden we had a down payment," St-Gelais laughed recently, referring to the cash bonuses awarded to medal winners.

St-Gelais and Hamelin are frequently reminded of their Vancouver exploits - which have made them household names in their home province - if only by the precious metals that usually decorate their coffee table.

"We do a lot of speeches and school visits and that kind of thing, and people always want to see [the medals] so mostly they're lying around on the kitchen counter," smiled Hamelin.

And if house-hunting was the immediate priority when Canada's golden couple returned from their star turn on the West Coast, they didn't have much time to soak it all in.

Sure, there was the hero's welcome at the Bell Centre before a Montreal Canadiens game and the downtown parade for the Quebec-based Olympians - "That was pretty mental," Hamelin said. But the pair's season wasn't actually finished.

The results at the world championships in Sofia, Bulgaria, in March and the team championship in Bormio, Italy, that same month were an anti-climax podium-wise for Hamelin - as she did in Vancouver, St-Gelais won silver in the 500 and the relay - but nothing could dent the residual giddiness from the Olympics.

The Italian adventure was St-Gelais and her teammates' chance to celebrate the retirement of women's team veteran Tania Vicent (a four-time medalist). The 34-year-old Vicent is a mentor of sorts to St-Gelais.

"We still stay in touch, every once in a while I just get this feeling I have to see Tania and we get together," she said of Vicent, who now works as a banker.

High-performance sports is generally about next year, seldom about last season, and so it was for St-Gelais and Hamelin, who were back on the ice after barely a month's respite.

There was just enough time for a whirlwind tour of St-Gelais's native Lac St. Jean region, and a short holiday with Hamelin's family before they were back in the gym and on the ice to prepare for a quartet of fall World Cup races (two in Quebec, two in China).

"People talk about a post-Olympic letdown, but I really haven't had one. It's been great to go back to training, this is my job, it's what I do," St-Gelais said. "It was nice to get back to basics and have someone to tell me 'No, that's not right, lean forward, sit down, do this,' especially when all you hear from people is, 'Bravo, you guys are great.' "

The couple have their sights set on the 2014 Sochi Games, so the focus is squarely on training. Sure, their lives have changed (celebrity will do that), but at bottom the thing they love most, and which brought them together, is the short track.

"We got back into the routine pretty quickly. I still love skating, I love the ambience with the boys. If I didn't I'd have stopped after the two gold medals," said Hamelin, who despite being the country's only double gold medalist hasn't exactly been besieged by endorsement offers.

St-Gelais won her first medal - a surprise silver in the women's 500 - on her 20th birthday, so whatever anniversary celebration the couple decides to have will likely be pegged to that (they'll be in Dresden, Germany, for a World Cup race).

Indeed, the 26-year-old Hamelin said the strongest memories of his second Olympics are St-Gelais's medal - which he watched on a closed-circuit feed, huddled among Canadian journalists in the bowels of the Pacific Coliseum - and the moment he stepped on the podium after the men's 5,000-metre relay gold, barely half an hour after the 500 final.

Hamelin also thinks frequently about the privilege of competing in a home-country Olympics with younger brother François (who also won gold in the relay), his girlfriend and father, Yves, the national short-track team's director.

"It was stuff I could never had dreamed of," he said.

And St-Gelais's signature memory?

"The most beautiful moment, after almost a year's reflection, was the day that we walked into the Olympic Village condo. That was crazy. Tania and I walked in last, the others were there and they were yelling and screaming about how amazing it was," she said. "We probably just screamed for half an hour. Tania was 34, she'd been to four Olympics, but she was just beside herself, running around. We had walk-ins and balconies, and amazing views. It was a beautiful moment. … That's when we knew it was going to be a great Games."

 

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