Hamelin experiences heartache

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VANCOUVER — Charles Hamelin did his best to mask his disappointment. It didn’t work.

This was to have been one of those magical Olympic nights, the beginning of a newfound star introducing himself to Canada and the world. This was to have been his first steps on the podium Canada has talked so much about owning.

Instead, he tried hard to stay positive, looked straight ahead without much emotion, and talked about the heartache of his Olympic debut on Canadian soil.

A day of deafening disappointment for Canadian sport and for Hamelin. Some thought this Super Saturday could be a three-medal haul for Canada: Instead, the men’s downhill race was cancelled in the morning, Hamelin went nowhere at night, and golden gifl Jenn Heil won silver. Already, it’s time to consider foreclosure on the Own The Podium program.

Heil did better in Turin: Hamelin did better in Turin. As opening nights go, this was almost shocking.

Maybe Hamelin wasn’t supposed to win last night but a whole lot of people had him winning a medal. He probably had himself winning a medal. Except that the first night of short track speed skating, that cruel and crazy sport, at the Vancouver Olympics looks too much like the kind of nights Canada has had so many other Olympics.

Only this was noisier, with a terrific boisterous crowd at Pacific Coliseum, expecting something to celebrate and eventually being left silent.

Hamelin did not make it to the finals of the 1,500 metre event, the event in which he placed fourth four years ago. He won the B Final, for all that means. He ended up seventh on the scoreboard. He watched as teammate Olivier Jean placed fourth and only because two skaters ahead of him crashed on the final turn and he got a hometown decision after falling in the semi-finals.

“You cannot blame anyone,” Hamelin said of his race. “This time it was not my time.”

In front of a crowd that included former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, the great showdown between Apolo Anton Ohno, the legendary American, and Hamelin, the new kid on the block, materialized only in the semi-final. In that race, the top two advanced on to the final. Hamelin wound up third behind the eventual gold medal winner, Jung-Su Lee of Korean and Ohno, who now has six Olympic medals in short track.

“You look at the race and say ‘Why did it happen to me?’” said Hamelin. The why being: How did he end up in the same semi-final with the best in the business?

It showed, at this distance, that even his best wasn’t enough.

“I didn’t do any bad races today,” said Hamelin, only fudging the truth slightly. “It’s just a matter of using my energy (better).”

There are still three events left for Hamelin. He will skate in the 500 metres and the 1,000 still and also take part in the relay. The 1,000 is his signature event. But if there was pressure before, there is more now. If the buildup to the Olympics got him, how does he recover now? This is all new for Canadians. They’ve never been asked to be great before. Now, it seems, so many are demanding it.

“I’m really good at getting over it and things like that,” said Hamelin, 25, who said he plans to go back to the Athlete’s Village and have some fun. “I need to refocus on what I have to do next.”

He romped in the B Final. He said that made him feel great. That is either something to build on or a reason for concern. Late last night in Vancouver, nobody seemed to know the difference.

steve.simmons@sunmedia.ca


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