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winter olympics

Canada's Charles Hamelin, left, and teammate Samuel Girard skate away following the men's 1500 metre short track race at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea, Saturday, February 10, 2018.Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

As he was introduced on the start line Saturday, Charles Hamelin, part showman, part short track speed skater, smirked and stroked his beard mischievously for the cameras, looking like a man who had devised some sort of secret plan.

But what transpired over the next few minutes in the 1500m race – as Hamelin would later say – did not go anything according to plan.

At 33 and skating in his last Olympics, Hamelin was widely expected to be Canada's first gold medal at the Pyeongchang Games. He was the defending champion going in and, having already won four Olympic medals, including three golds, he is one of Canada's most decorated Olympians.

But short track, which at times can seem less like a race and more like a rodeo on ice, has a way of upending even the best-laid plans, as skaters slip and collide, and bowl each other over with regularity.

After bumping a skater midway through the race, Hamelin lost his stride and was instantly passed by several competitors, falling to the back of the pack. It was a hole too deep to emerge from. He would ultimately finish in ninth, after being penalized for instigating the contact.

"I wanted to have a better result, but this is short track," said Hamelin, who is from Sainte-Julie, Que. "In short track, anything can happen."

Canadian Samuel Girard, a 21-year-old from Ferland-et-Boilleau, Qué., remained in contention for the balance of the race, narrowly missing the podium with a fourth-place finish in his first Olympic appearance.

Korea's Lim Hyo-jun won the gold medal, while Dutch skater Sjinkie Knegt took the silver, and Russian Semen Elistratov claimed the bronze.

For a brief moment at the end, Girard thought the possible disqualification of another skater might push him into third place.

"It wasn't there [but] I'm really happy with the fourth place. Just the experience to be there, and living it, I'm really happy about that," he said.

Girard, who is expected to play a key role in Canada's short track future, said it was tough to see his mentor, Hamelin, unable to deliver.

"It's the last Olympics for Charles, I wanted the gold medal for him, and I really wanted him to be on the podium. But that's the race with nine skaters, we have a lot of passes and falls, so things could happen."

There will be more chances to win a medal, with Girard and Hamelin both skating in the 500m, 1,000m, and men's relay races in Pyeongchang.

Though disappointed in his own performance, Hamelin said he was happy to see Girard perform so well. The two are roommates at the Olympics and Hamelin has taken the younger skater under his tutelage, with the veteran schooling the rookie on mental preparation at the Games. Girard's development could become another layer of Hamelin's legacy in the sport.

"Sam is a really good friend," Hamelin said. "If I can take some positives from the day it's that I was able to [spend] the day with Samuel Girard, I was able to make the rounds with him, I was really, really close with him during the whole day. I was able to bring him to where I want him to be in his mind and in his body to be ready for that final. And for him, his first final, finishing fourth, I think it's something that he can be really proud of."