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Olympic hopeful loves to go fast, on and off the ice

'The colour makes a really big impact,' Charles Hamelin says of his 2007 Mazdaspeed3 hatchback.

John Morstad/John Morstad/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

He's Canada's top-ranked short track speed skater and he's going for gold at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

Charles Hamelin is a speed demon at heart. He's equally as fast and nimble on the ice as he is on the road, especially when he's driving his 2007 Mazdaspeed3 hatchback.

"I really like speed; I guess speed is in my blood. I wanted to have a car that speeds well. When it passes, the car has really good acceleration and really good speed," says Hamelin, who finished third overall at the 2009 World Short Track Championships, winning gold in the 500-metre and bronze in the 300-metre. He won his first Olympic medal, a silver in the 5,000 relay, at the 2006 Olympic Games in Turin.

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As if training, Hamelin turned to his coach Derrick Campbell for car advice. "He really knows everything about all the cars on the market. I went with him to try cars.

"I started with a list of maybe 20 cars and, month after month, I was reducing my list."

He narrowed it down to three choices - a Mazdaspeed3, a Mazda RX-8 and a Honda Civic. "I made my choice of the Mazdaspeed3 because it's the more practical car for now and the future.

"I'll be able to keep it for a long time and when I get a family I'll be able to put people in the back. There's a lot of room in the back and the car is sporty," says Hamelin, who started speed skating at the age of 10 in his hometown of Sainte-Julie, Quebec. He now lives in Montreal with his girlfriend, fellow short track skater and Olympic hopeful Marianne St-Gelais.

The Mazda's red colour also helped seal the deal. "I wanted to have not a boring colour like black or dark blue. I wanted something more flashy because I really like light blue or red or any bright colour.

"The colour makes a really big impact. From the outside, it looks really sporty and, on the inside, compared to a normal Mazda3, the speed is really unique. I like the style inside and it's really comfortable," says the 25-year-old, who is in the midst of a hectic training schedule, practising six days a week approximately six hours a day.

Hamelin bought his Mazda used last April; it had 30,000 km on it. Since then, he has logged another 10,000 km. He knows his vehicle inside, outside and under the hood. He rambles off its specs easily - it has a 2.3-litre turbocharged I-4 with 263 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque.

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Off the ice, his girlfriend keeps a watchful eye on his speed. "My girlfriend helps me to not go too fast. I have cruise control on it so it helps me when I'm doing longer rides - just put it at the right speed and be sure not to get caught by police," he says. So far, he has no speeding tickets.

Hamelin's first car was a Toyota Echo, which he bought from his dad in 2004. His second car was a Volkswagen Jetta; he sold it to his dad when he got the Mazdaspeed3.

"When I went to the dealership to try the car and see how was the drive and acceleration, I was really impressed. Before that, I didn't really have a chance to drive a car that fast with that acceleration on the road. I was really impressed. I just fall in love with that."

After buying it, he had a setback. "I was going to the rink and, when I went to leave, my car didn't want to start. I went to the garage where I bought it and my battery was dead - sometimes when the car stays too long in the garage, the battery dies and they have to change it. It was the only thing that went a little bit bad for my car."

On the road, he listens to CDs; in his six-disc changer is an assortment of French and English CDs including Linkin Park. "When I finish listening to all the CDs, I start to get bored listening to the same thing so I put the radio on.

"I don't have any songs that I always listen to when I'm doing competition. It always depends on the moment.

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"I'm really versatile on my music style. I really like all kinds of music - it makes me feel good at any time," says Hamelin, whose brother François is also on the national and Olympic short track speed skating team.

Hamelin plans to drive the Mazdaspeed3 into the ground. "I think the car is in really good shape. I just want to take care of it so I can keep it as long as I can. That's the best car I've had."

But if he wins gold in Vancouver, he might consider trading it for his dream car - a BMW 1-Series. "Not the one that came out in North America. The hatchback that came out in Europe."

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