Big skates for Hamelin to fill

IAN BUSBY -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:21 AM ET

As he watched Marc Gagnon's record-breaking performance from his home in Montreal, Charles Hamelin was inspired.

The junior short track speed skater started emulating Gagnon, standing up on his couch as his hero was handed a gold medal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.

Hamelin screamed for the dyed-blond skater but immediately began imagining himself becoming Canada's next short track hero.

"Just watching him, I was dreaming to skate like he did in the Olympics," Hamelin said. "I'll try to do the same thing."

The time is now to fill Gagnon's skates. And the 20-year-old Hamelin has a chance, seeing as how he's risen from the junior ranks to consistently hit the podium on the World Cup circuit in his first senior season.

Three times in the last year Hamelin has skated a world-record time in a sport that used to be measured more by placements.

When it comes to replacing Gagnon, national team coach Guy Thibault said Hamelin is one of a handful of skaters -- including Francois-Louis Tremblay, Mathieu Turcotte, Steve Robillard -- with the ability to turn the world on its ear in Turin.

"I hope they're going to Turin to win," said Thibault about his young team. "Olympics are always hard ones because experience can win. It's a totally different game. If you can take the pressure, you're fine."

The short track team brought home six medals from Salt Lake and is expected to maintain that level through 2010.

They still have a tough task replacing Gagnon's three-medal output. In the three short years since Salt Lake, Hamelin has gone from unknown to contender.

"I was all excited when it happened but I was alone," Hamelin said of Gagnon. "All my family was gone for my brother's competition. I was yelling and screaming and no one was there to hear it."

That won't happen a year from now.


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