Ohno! Charles and François Hamelin miss the podium

Apolo make U.S Olympic history with his seventh medal
Ken MacQueen and Nancy Macdonald

Hamelin brothersIt was a parents’ dream: two sons, short track skaters Charles Hamelin and his younger brother François in the Olympic 1,000-metre medal final.

It was a parents’ nightmare: only one could possibility win Saturday night at Vancouver’s Pacific Coliseum.

It was a parents’ heartbreak: Charles, 25, took the lead, with François, 23, drafting behind him. They held that position for several laps; with François dueling with American superstar Apolo Anton Ohno for second place— the partisan home country crowd screaming support.

In the stands their father Yves Hamelin, national team program director, clutched a stopwatch and urged them on. How many times have these two brothers chased each other around the rink, for fun, for family, for personal pride? On Saturday there was so much more at stake.

Then, in a flash of blue, and in Olympic record time, it was over. Two Koreans, Jung-Su Lee and Ho-Suk Lee swept into the lead, followed by Ohno who had slipped to last place and then charged back to take bronze. Charles fell back to fourth just ahead of his brother.

For a crestfallen Charles, a medal favorite and the world record holder in this distance, it was his second disappointment. A week earlier he’d failed to advance to the finals in the 1,500 metres. “It’s one of the toughest races I’ve ever skated,” Charles said later. He said the raucous crowd gave him and his brother energy, but it also hampered their race strategy. “Since we’re not accustomed to that we had trouble hearing the people behind us.”

Charles said he and his brother had no plans to work together to block their opponents. “We don’t talk together about strategy,” he said. “But we talked to our coach and he makes sure our strategies will work together.” The plan, said François, was to break into the lead early. They knew five of the six best skaters in the world were in the final. “Maybe we went too fast at the beginning,” he said, “and it hurt us in the end.”

For Ohno, 27, the third place finish was a triumph. With that bronze he earned his seventh Olympic medal in three Olympic Games, breaking his tie with long-track speed skater Bonnie Blair, who was in the stands Saturday. “It feels amazing,” Ohno said later. “As an athlete you never really look back at past medals that I’ve won. I just remember the struggles and the sacrifices that I’ve made to get to this point.”

Ohno said he made some mistakes during the race but he is satisfied with a bronze. My goal was to come out here and pour my heart and soul into these Olympic Games and I have no regrets, I’m just happy to be here.” Ohno said in earlier interviews he is also pumped by what he predicts will be “one of the best American Games ever.” He gave a nod to Charles Hamelin, the world record holder in the 1,000m. “These Canadian guys prepare so hard and so well—Operation Gold or whatever they’re calling it . . . Own the Podium or something,” he said to a group of largely American journalists. Then, in what is becoming a well-worn American joke, he added: “They can own the podium, we just want to borrow it. Just for the month of February, and we’ll give it back.”

In an earlier race, Tania Vicent, 34, and a 16-year veteran of the Canadian team, was the only Canadian to advance to the finals in the women’s 1,500-metres. She came out charging in a packed field of eight skaters but faded badly at the end, finishing last. Kalyna Roberge, considered the strongest skater on the women’s team fell in a crash-fest of a quarterfinal. Meng Wang, the prohibitive favourite to win, triggered a three-woman crash, and failed to qualify for the finals.