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Olympics In men's speedskating, a torch passes: Rookie Girard wins gold after veteran Hamelin sidelined

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

There are rivals and there are succession planners.

It might seem obvious that Charles Hamelin, 33, and Samuel Girard, 21, are the latter.

On Saturday, the two short track speed skaters spent their day side by side, the veteran taking the rookie through preparatory rituals ahead of the 1,000-metre race. "We went through the day together," Hamelin said. "And we were ready to do a great race in the semi."

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But "it didn't go as planned," at least, not for him. He was disqualified in the semi-finals.

It was, instead, Girard who came first in the 1,000 metres, taking gold at his first Olympics and declaring himself the new banner-holder for Canada.

He is ready to "lead Canada to other medals" and "the next Olympics," he said. "It's now my time to shine with a gold medal," he added.

But if it looked like the youngster giddily accepting the torch passed his way, there is more to it.

Yes, Hamelin has been crucial to Girard's career.

But in the years they have trained together, Girard has also been instrumental in pushing the older skater, a champion who is at once rival, mentor and, in a sense, protegé.

For Girard, "Charles has been really huge for him. He's got one of the best in the business to look up to," said Derrick Campbell, the men's speed skating team head coach. "Charles is super professional. He's the ideal role model, he's the ideal teammate."

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At the same time, Girard is at least part of the reason Hamelin, the three-time Olympic gold medallist now ranked ninth in the world in the 1,000 metres, was a strong contender for the finals before he was disqualified. (Girard is ranked fifth.)

"Charles needed him, actually, in the last couple of years," said Campbell.

"Charles was dominant. There weren't many people challenging him," he said. Hamelin needed the younger skater "to push him. Sam, I think, teaches him about some things in the sport as well."

It has been steel sharpening steel, Girard says.

"I'm a youngster, like bringing a new wind onto the team," Girard says. "And I think that pushed Charles to be better – and he wants to be better. He's a great athlete. So he helped me in some points and I helped him in some points. I think it's a good chemistry."

Indeed, the hard-charging Girard seems perfectly comfortable in his own leadership role, dominating a 1,000-metre race in which he placed himself at the front of the pack and stayed there until the end. His time of 1:24.650 beat U.S. skater John-Henry Krueger by two-tenths of a second. South Korea's Seo Yira came third.

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"To be at the front of the race, it's really my place," Girard said. "Canadians are strong, we're able to control the race." Being in first, too, kept him away from a crash that swept away two South Korean skaters behind him.

"It's the final, everybody wants to be on the podium," he said.

Still, he would have preferred not to be there as the sole Canadian.

"I really wanted this medal. The plan would be to have Charles with me," he said.

In South Korea, the two are roommates in the athlete's village, eating breakfast, lunch and dinner together – close enough friends that Girard speaks of Hamelin in the same sentence as his girlfriend, fellow speedskater Kasandra Bradette.

"I'm really happy" Hamelin was there at the end of his race, he said, "to share that with me – and also my girlfriend was there. So I can share my emotions with the people I love."

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