Charles Hamelin said going into his fifth and final Olympics that, win or lose, he wanted to go home with a smile on his face.
In the end, he’s coming home with much more than that.
On Wednesday, the 37-year-old gave himself a million reasons to smile in his final Olympic race as he helped Canada win gold in the men’s 5,000-metre short-track speed-skating relay.
Hamelin and Canadian teammates Steven Dubois, Jordan Pierre-Gilles and Pascal Dion finished in a winning time of six minutes, 41.25 seconds.
It’s a sixth career medal for Hamelin, who joins long-track speed skater Cindy Klassen as the only other Winter Olympian with a half-dozen podium finishes. Swimmer Penny Oleksiak is the most decorated overall, with seven medals.
The 37-year-old also joins women’s hockey players Caroline Ouellette, Jayna Hefford and Hayley Wickenheiser as the only Canadian Olympians with four gold medals.
“I’ll be smiling for a long time,” Hamelin said. “It will be glued to my face for weeks.”
South Korea won silver in 6:41.69, while Italy claimed bronze in 6:43.431.
“I just think if you put the work in, anything is possible. Finishing on top of the podium with these guys, it is living your dream,” said Hamelin.
Maxime Laoun, who skated in the seminal, joined his Canadian teammates on the podium.
“There is so much love in this team. We’re really like a family,” said Pierre-Gilles, his arms around the shoulders of Laoun and Dion. “We’ve spent some extraordinary weeks here. We’ve had a lot of fun together.”
Pierre-Gilles said that knowing it was Hamelin’s last Olympics gave the team a little extra motivation.
“He was already a legend and he had the opportunity to make history even more,” he said. “We did it for us and for him. It’s nice to know we won with him.”
Canada trailed the Koreans and Russian Olympic Committee for much of the race, before Dubois pulled Canada into second with 21 of the 45 laps to go.
With 18 laps remaining, Pierre-Gilles pushed Canada to the front of the pack and the Canadians protected that lead until Dubois crossed the finish line ahead of his South Korean rival.
“When I pushed Charles on my second to last exchange and I saw the gap with the Korean, I knew it was done,” Dion said.
After crossing the finish line, Dubois yelled and raised his fists in the air in celebration.
Hamelin said his team had already won the event at the World Cup level, but that he knew doing it at the Olympics would be “ten times more emotional.”
“I saw Steven on the ice during the last laps and we exploded with joy,” he said. “We went to see the coaches and we cried in their arms.”
Hamelin praised his teammates, saying “they pushed me for four years and I pushed them also so they accomplished great things in Beijing.”
Dubois, meanwhile, has now won three medals – one of every colour – at the Beijing Games. He had earlier won silver in the 1,500 and bronze in the 500.
“It means so much. We had such a crazy season, and we wanted to show so bad what we could do. I saw on the last two exchanges that there were some small gaps and thought, ‘This is it,’” Dubois said.
The 24-year-old of Terrebonne, Que., becomes the second Canadian Olympian to complete the medal set in Beijing. Long-track speed skater Isabelle Weidemann won a gold, bronze and silver on the Ice Ribbon oval.
“I came here without too much pressure and even if I was nervous before my races, I had confidence in my abilities,” he said. “I didn’t have the feeling that I had to win at all costs and that’s something to remember for the next competitions.
“Yes, we’re here to win, but when you manage to have fun it helps to win.”
Women’s short track team members Kim Boutin and Courtney Sarault, who skated in the B final of the 1,500 metres, were able to forget their disappointment for a few moments as they greeted their winning teammates with hugs.
Hamelin, from Saint-Julie, Que., now has four Olympic gold medals to go along with one silver and one bronze. He last topped an Olympic podium in Sochi in 2014 in the men’s 1,500.
In recent years, he’s also become a mentor and an inspiration to the younger skaters, coach Sebastien Cros said Wednesday.
“Young people see Charles, his medals, his journey, and he’s always serious about what he does,” Cros said.
“These are things that young people sometimes find difficult to understand, things that take time. We can explain it, but the athletes can see it with him and that is priceless.”
This new generation got a chance on Wednesday to see one of Canada’s greatest Olympic athletes in action.
Hamelin still has one final race next month, when the World Short Track Championships come to Montreal.
He promises he’ll be there. And there’s a good chance he’ll still be smiling.
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