QUEBEC'S CHARLES HAMELIN PLACES FIRST
SOCHI, Russia -- One gold down. And there could be more to come for Charles Hamelin.
The star Canadian short-track speedskater won the men's 1,500 metres at the Sochi Olympics on Monday. It could be the first of four medals for the Ste-Julie, Que., native, who is a heavy favourite in his three other events.
He finished in two minutes 14.985 seconds, edging Han Tianyu of China.
"Of course I want to be on the podium again," said Hamelin, a double gold medallist four years ago in Vancouver. "But this is short-track and it's a tough sport."
Viktor Ahn earned the bronze, giving Russia its first-ever short-track medal. J.R. Celsi, the 2010 bronze medallist from Federal Way, Wash., finished fourth.
Hamelin, who at 29 was the oldest skater in the final, maintained a top-three position throughout most of the 14-lap race, leaving enough at the end to defeat a loaded field.
"It's not my best distance," said Hamelin. "But I had a really good start and was able to control the race afterwards. I am looking forward to continue (racing) that strong this week."
Hamelin, who has been virtually unbeatable on the World Cup circuit this season, still has the 1,000, 500 and relay to go in Sochi.
Monday's result ties Hamelin with Marc Gagnon for the most gold medals for a Canadian short-track speedskater. If he wins medals in his three remaining events he will become Canada's most decorated Olympian behind long-track speedskater Cindy Klassen speedskater/cyclist and Clara Hughes, who both have six.
As Hamelin entered the final lap in the lead Monday, his girlfriend and teammate Marianne St-Gelais couldn't control her excitement, racing from her seat to the sidelines to give him a congratulatory hug. A photo of the couple sharing a celebratory kiss at the 2010 Olympics was one of the iconic images from Vancouver.
Late in the race, surprise finalist Jack Whelbourne of Britain crashed and took out one of the rubber lane markers. Lee Han-bin, the lone South Korean in the final, finished sixth. He was advanced into the final by the judges after teammate Sin Da-woon crashed in the semifinals and took Lee down with him.
The gold in the 1,500 was a bit of a surprise given it's not Hamelin's best event. He finished seventh in Vancouver, where he won gold in the 500 and the 5,000-metre relay. He also has a silver from the 2006 Turin Olympics.
"It's so many emotions. Vancouver was a disappointment, so I wanted to come back strong here. I have put so much work into it," he said.
Ahn stepped on the podium to wild cheers from the mostly Russian crowd. He was a three-time gold medallist for his native South Korea, but after missing the Vancouver Games four years ago, he changed his name and became a Russian citizen. He was known as Ahn Hyun-soo when he won gold in the 1,500 at the 2006 Turin Olympics.
"I'm a little bit nervous," he said. "I didn't think very much. I never thought I could make it to the finals, let alone stand on the podium. I took every round as my final, and tried my best to compete."
Francois Hamelin, Charles' brother, and Michael Gilday of Yellowknife didn't advance to the final. Gilday was disqualified in the semis and Hamelin was second in the B final.
In the women's 500 preliminaries, St-Gelais, from Saint-Felicien, Que., Jessica Hewitt of Kamloops, B.C., and Valerie Maltais of La Baie, Que., all advanced from the heats.
St-Gelais, Hewitt, Maltais and Marie-Eve Drolet of Chicoutimi, Que., also advanced in the women's 3,000-metre relay.