The torch has been passed.
As Charles Hamelin and Marianne St-Gelais wrap up their Olympic careers at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games, they can rest assured Canada’s successful short-track speedskating program is in good hands with rising stars Samuel Girard and Kim Boutin taking over.
The youth movement continued Saturday. Girard raced to gold in the men’s 1,000 metres — the only Olympic short-track event in which Hamelin doesn’t own a medal — while Boutin earned her second bronze of the Games in the women’s 1,500.
Hamelin and St-Gelais, competing in their last Olympics, didn’t figure into Saturday’s medal races. St-Gelais was eliminated in her 1,500 semifinal after incurring a penalty in a second straight race, while Hamelin’s disqualification in the 1,000 semi actually advanced Girard into the final.
While the lack of individual results so far in Pyeongchang is disappointing for Hamelin, a three-time Olympic champion and four-time medallist who had set an Olympic record in 1,000 qualifying, and St-Gelais, who owns three Olympic silver medals, Canada’s first couple of short track has shown genuine enthusiasm for their medal-winning teammates, who are both Olympic debutantes.
St-Gelais, who has described herself as a “mother figure” to Boutin, gave the 23-year-old from Sherbrooke Que., a joyful hug after her second straight third-place finish. After his win, Girard leapt into the pads surrounding the rink at the Gangneung Ice Arena, where Hamelin was waiting to give the 21-year-old from Ferland-et-Boilleau, Que., a playful slap on the helmet.
“Just before the race (Hamelin) said to me, ‘Let’s go, you can do this,”’ Girard said. “He gave me a tap on the back. We train together, all the team was behind me on this medal.
“He would have loved to have this medal here, but he’s happy that I’m the one who has it,” Girard added. “It was a nice moment. It’s a bit of passing the torch, it’s a bit of that image.”
Canada’s short-track medals on Day 8 of competition put the nation back on track after a lacklustre seventh day, where Canadian athletes were kept off the podium and the news was dominated by curler Rachel Homan’s controversial loss to Denmark.
Homan’s team rebounded Saturday to pick up its first win of the Games with an 11-3 rout of the United States.
Also Saturday, figure skating star Patrick Chan finished ninth in his Olympic swan song, Canada’s men’s hockey team lost a thriller against the Czech Republic, 3-2 in a shootout, and Kevin Koe’s curling team lost for the first time in Pyeongchang when it was defeated 5-2 by Sweden.
At the halfway point of the Games, Canada sat third in the overall medal standings with 15, five of each colour. Norway led with 22, followed by Germany with 17.
Germany led all nations with nine gold medals, followed by Norway (7), the Netherlands (6) and Canada and the United States (5).
As is often the case with short-track speedskating, the men’s 1,000 final was a chaotic affair with the three competitors behind Girard and silver medallist John-Henry Krueger of the United States falling to the ice in a tangle.
Girard, who won in a time of one minute 24.65 seconds, skated at the front early in the race, a strategy that can have its risks but proved prudent on Saturday as it allowed him to avoid the crash.
“I don’t want to be there when those things happen,” Girard said. “So I really want to be in the front. That was my plan and I executed pretty well.”
Seo Yira of South Korea emerged from the pileup to take bronze.
Boutin came out of a crowded field of seven competitors in the women’s 1,500 final to take her second bronze in 2:25.834. South Korea’s Choi Minjeong won gold and China’s Li Jinyu skated to silver.
“It’s pretty unbelievable,” Boutin said. “It was a really hard race and it was pretty exciting. I feel like I did pretty well. It was a lot of work behind me, just making the final for me is a big bonus.
“I did it two times (now) so it’s unbelievable.”
Boutin was subjected to hundreds of threatening social media messages after winning her 500-metre bronze and had to set her online accounts to private. She originally finished fourth in the race, but was promoted to third when Choi was disqualified for interfering with the Canadian.
The incident didn’t seem to affect her composure on Saturday as she crossed the line third, eliminating any room for dispute.
The Olympics aren’t over yet for Hamelin and St-Gelais. With several short-track events to go, both could go out as medallists. In fact, Hamelin could even join Cindy Klassen and Clara Hughes as the most decorated Canadian athletes in Olympic history if he reaches the podium in the men’s 500-metres and 5,000-metre relay.
But no matter how the last events play out, Hamelin and St-Gelais will be the past after Pyeongchang, and they like what they see in the future.
“I really wish them well,” St-Gelais said before the Games. “It’s time for the face of short-track to change.”
Another decorated Canadian veteran giving way to the country’s younger athletes, Chan scored 173.42 points for an overall score of 263.43.
Skating to Jeff Buckley’s haunting “Hallelujah,” the three-time world champion from Toronto opened with a beautiful quadruple toe loop, but tripled his second quad jump in a shaky skate.
Chan was sixth in Friday’s short program after he fell on his triple Axel.
The Canadian, who is retiring, ends his career with an Olympic silver in the men’s event from the 2014 Games and a team gold won earlier in Pyeongchang.
“This is the best Olympic experience out of the three, because I was in control,” he said. “I was not dying out of breath.”
It was a 1-2 finish for Japan, with two-time world champion Yuzuru Hanyu earning 206.17 points in the free skate for a total of 317.85 and the gold medal.
Shoma Uno took silver with a total score of 306.90, while Spain’s Javier Fernandez was third with 305.24.
Keegan Messing of Sherwood Park, Alta., was 12th, finishing with a total score of 255.43.
Meanwhile, freestyle skier Dara Howell, a gold medallist in women’s slopestyle four years ago in Sochi, finished a disappointing 21st.
The 23-year-old from Huntsville, Ont., who admitted she tore a knee ligament in November, is already looking ahead to 2022.
“My dad is going to kill me. I just said to him: ‘OK I’ve gotta go four more years,”’ an emotional Howell said with a laugh. “I think every Olympics is a different experience and you learn so much along the way. We’ll see but I just don’t think I’m done.”
Yuki Tsubota of Whistler, B.C., was the top Canadian — and the only one of three to make the final. She placed sixth with a score of 74.40 points.
Back on the ice, the Canadian men’s hockey team suffered its first loss of the tournament.
Wojtek Wolski scored for Canada in the shootout while Maxim Lapierre, Derek Roy, Rene Bourque and Maxim Noreau missed. Noreau actually beat goalie Pavel Francouz with Canada’s final shot but the puck bounced off the goalpost.
Canada opened the tournament with a 5-1 win over Switzerland.
It was mixed results for Canada in curling, with both teams going against the trend they set to start the Games. Homan’s crushing of the U.S. followed three straight losses, a performance that few had anticipated from a team that was heavily favoured to win the gold.
“I think we played really well in those other games, but we each had a couple key mistakes that really cost us,” the Ottawa skip said. “Obviously, we’re trying our best out there. And learning from those mistakes moving forward I think was the key to today.”
Koe’s Calgary team had a trying three ends, starting with giving up a steal of two in the sixth in their loss to Sweden.
The Swedes now lead the men’s standings at 5-0, with Canada right behind at 4-1.
Also Saturday, Calgary’s Elisabeth Vathje was ninth in women’s skeleton. Jane Channell of North Vancouver, B.C., was 10th and Ottawa’s Mirela Rahneva was 12th.