Charles Hamelin is on the brink of history.
The Canadian short-track speed skater has a chance to become Canada’s most decorated Olympic athlete if he delivers on the medal haul being predicted for him in Sochi.
That hunt begins on Monday, when Hamelin takes to the ice for the 1,500-metre race, the first of four events for him in Russia. With three Olympic medals already – including gold in the 500-metre and 5,000-metre relay in Vancouver four years ago, and silver in the 5,000-metre relay at the 2006 Turin Games – Hamelin needs four medals to lay claim to the distinction of having more Olympic hardware than anyone else.
Long-track speed skater Cindy Klassen is the current record holder, with six Olympic medals to her name, including five won in Turin.
While adding four medals to his haul might seem like a tall order, for Hamelin it is within reach.
He has dominated the world cup circuit this year, and is ranked first in the 1000-metre race, first in the 1,500-metre event, and second in the 500-metres. He will also be racing the 5,000-metre relay again, in which Canada is always a contender.
Yves Hamelin, his father and also the short track program director for Canada, believes Charles is in his prime of his short track career, both physically and mentally. Add in an increased focus on strategy and patience over the past few years, and the results are showing on the ice.
“Charles had four years to really work with the strategy, with the tactics, and he knows what he can do, he knows how to behave... avoiding such a panic or quick reaction that in the past impacted his performance, doing the wrong move,” Yves Hamelin said in Sochi.
“If we look at the last two years, we see him reliable in terms of having the right reaction at the right time.”
Hamelin seems as relaxed as ever. At a team press conference last week, Hamelin joked with his teammates and otherwise didn’t like seem a man facing the pressure of breaking multiple records. He also has a shot at becoming the first short track speed skater to win four medals at one Olympics.
Hamelin said the Canadian short track team as a whole has improved since Vancouver.
“We are just better skaters,” he said. “Everyone evolved and everyone is now better than they were in 2010… we are just rocking the podium all the time – boys and girls.”
But in order to break the record, the 29-year-old from Sainte-Julie, Que., will need to avoid disaster on the track. And in short-track, where mass pile-ups and race-changing wipeouts are common, that’s easier said than done. Skaters often bump, nudge or drag each other down, testing the rules to gain a few steps. But Hamelin has worked more on his strength heading into Sochi, which will help him stay on his feet when the going gets rough.
Also working in his favour is that Hamelin has skated in Sochi before, at an international competition last year, and the results were positive.
“I really liked the ice, came back home with two gold medals,” he said. “It was a good time.”