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It began days ago, with a gold medal and a kiss – Charles Hamelin finishing first in the 1,500-metres short-track speed-skating event, then leaning over the protective barrier to embrace his girlfriend, teammate Marianne St-Gelais.
It was a splendid moment, with the possibility of more to come for Canada’s short-track sweethearts.
Then, came Tuesday’s wild spin of emotions inside the 2014 Sochi Olympics skating palace, a silver medal for St-Gelais in the women’s 3,000-metres relay and another fall for Hamelin, his second of these Games.
Little wonder why the athletes consider short track a “rude” sport. One minute, they can be leading the pack heading into the final lap, then – whoops! – they can be up against the barrier, out of contention, out of the race. As harsh as any winter sport can be, short track can match that malice and raise the hurt.
Ask Hamelin about it. Happy with his gold in the 1,500, he lamented his missed opportunities.
In Tuesday’s 500-metres qualification race, as the defending Olympic champion in the event, Hamelin hit a soft spot on the ice and was down and out.
He immediately left the ice and straight to a bathroom where he cried and did his best to get over it. He met with the media after composing himself and spoke of how quickly a short-track skater can go from utter joy to complete disappointment.
“Short track is a sport that’s really exciting and be really, really glorious for some people, and sometimes can be really rude and cruel for some other people,” Hamelin said. “As for me, right now, it’s a tough moment to pass through. But it was not because I was not strong enough.”
Had he scored medals in all his races in Sochi, Hamelin would have become Canada’s most-decorated Olympian. As it is, he remains the standard-bearer for his sport and the best short-track skater our country has seen.
What helped soothe his wounded spirits Tuesday was watching St-Gelais and her relay teammates win a silver medal. It was a just reward for St-Gelais, who had finished last in her 1,000-metres heat and failed to advance out of her 500 semi-final.
She had her own private outburst with tears. Then, she helped Canada to a relay silver medal. In the rude and unforgiving world of short track, it’s all in how the bodies fly and who makes it to the finish line.
Canada added a second silver medal Tuesday, when Mike Riddle flipped and soared in the inaugural halfpipe freestyle ski event. Despite the snowy conditions at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, Riddle rang up 90.60 points on his second run, just two points back of American David Wise, who won gold.
The halfpipe event was added to the Olympic program thanks to the tireless advocacy of Canadian skier Sarah Burke. She died almost two years ago, after a training accident.
The International Olympic Committee refused to allow the Canada freestyle skiers to wear a sticker on their helmets in honour of Burke. The athletes say they have been thinking of her, nonetheless.
The women’s halfpipe ski event goes Thursday, with one of Burke’s friends, Rosalind Groenewoud, rated a medal contender.
Lastly, an effort worth mentioning even though it didn’t produce a medal: Brendan Green and Jean-Philippe Le Guellec finished in the top 10 of the men’s mass start biathlon race. Green was ninth, Le Guellec 10th.
What made Green’s result so special: Eighteen months ago, he was bedridden after undergoing two surgeries for a herniated disc in his back. His girlfriend, biathlete Rosanna Crawford, interrupted her training to take care of him.
She kept telling Green he could make it to Sochi. He did, and it led to an impressive showing, the best by two Canadian men in Olympic biathlon.