Top 2014: Short track surprises & sorrows
This month Olympic.ca will be revisiting the top Canadian sports moments of 2014.
Having kept pace all year with the world’s elite, Canada’s short track speed skating team had high expectations heading into Sochi 2014 in a competition that could only be described as unpredictable, even for short track.
Of all the unexpected results that emerged from the Iceberg Skating Palace, no speed skater would experience the wide spectrum of highs and lows that Ste-julie, Quebec’s Charles Hamelin went through. The Olympic champ started the Games on top of the world taking men’s 1500m gold ahead of rivals Han Tianyu of China and crowd favourite Viktor Ahn.
A solid start by their leader had the rest of the men’s relay team confident that they might be able to pull off their Olympic title defence. That is until disaster struck during the 5000m relay semis when Charles’ brother François hit a bloc and went crashing into the mat, the first of many falls that would seem to haunt the Canadian short track skaters throughout these Games.
Three days later it would be Charles’ turn to inexplicably trip during a 1000m quarter-final race and again 48 hours after that on the final lap of a 500m heat.
But with the defending 500m gold medallist’s early exit, a surprise contender emerged as fellow Canadian Charle Cournoyer managed to skate his way to the final and on to the podium capturing a then unexpected second short track medal for his country in the form of bronze.
With the country’s top-two female skaters in Marianne St-Gelais and Valérie Maltais – who set an new 1000m Olympic record during heats – missing the individual race podiums, all hopes for the women’s team rested on the relay. It was soon obvious after the start of the race that the gold medal would be contested between the powerhouses South Korea and China with Canada trailing in third, witnessing the battle that unfolded from afar.
With a bronze medal secured, Canada finally enjoyed some good fortune. The first place bout proved a little too intense in the final laps, where China’s overly aggressive attempts earned them a disqualification, upgrading the Canadian women to silver behind South Korea.
Canada will be hoping for an improvement in the luck department for Pyeongchang come 2018, adding a new crop of gifted skaters to the World Cup circuit team with veterans Hamelin and St-Gelais already committing to a new Olympic cycle.