Four-time Olympic medallist spoke about his journey as part of the Red Bull Athlete Tour
Charles Hamelin was 17 years old when he began to dominate the podium in short track speed skating. Before that, he’d never imagined a future of Olympic stardom. He never imagined that he would be racing against the fastest skaters in the world one day. And he certainly never imagined that he’d capture an Olympic gold medal on home soil, let alone twice. However, thanks to the support of his father and relationship with his brother, he never gave up on the sport—and it’s a good thing he didn’t.
On Wednesday, March 25, the four-time Olympic medallist visited Concordia University as a part of the Red Bull Athlete Tour. For the past couple weeks, Hamelin has been making his way through local universities such as Laval, Queen’s and George Brown College to share his experience and Olympic journey with students.
Growing up in Sainte-Julie, Hamelin is still amazed by how quickly his career took off. When he was 10, Hamelin and his younger brother François first tried the sport on a whim. Their father Yves, who is now the director of the Canadian short track program, encouraged his boys to stick with it. Although Yves never raced competitively himself, he was always there to help in any way he could.
Hamelin says the constant year-to-year improvement is one of the reasons why he began to flourish on the ice. As other racers had reached their peak by their late teens, Hamelin was just starting to realize his potential.
Turning 31 in less than two weeks, Hamelin first arrived on the World Championship stage when he was 20 years old. At his first World Championship competition in Beijing in 2005, Hamelin won a gold medal as a part of the men’s 5000-metre relay team, as well as a silver medal in the 500-metre race.
The following year, Hamelin got his first whiff of Olympic competition. Although his individual races did not go as well as he had hoped, Hamelin won his first Olympic medal after Canada’s 5000-metre relay team finished second.
Having cemented himself as a future star in the sport after his success at the World Championships and in his Olympic debut, Hamelin knew that the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver was his can’t-miss opportunity.
“In front of the home crowd, [the] expectations were high,” he said. “Canada wanted to be number one in medals.”
Hamelin trained vigorously for the next few years in the lead-up to the Vancouver games. He had learned to overcome the mental stress that came with racing on international stages and, as he began to accumulate more and more World Championship medals in the process, Hamelin knew that he had reached his peak by the time the Vancouver Olympics were set to begin.
The day of Hamelin’s 500-metre sprint and 5000-metre relay race in Vancouver was one that he will never forget.
“When I woke up, there was something different about that day,” he said. “[I felt] almost unbeatable.”
Hamelin remembers everything about that day and every aspect of his back-to-back races. What the energy of the crowd felt like, how every stride seemed to hug the ice surface, how composed he was in the midst of madness and how he felt standing on the top of the podium with his brother after it was all over.
By the time Hamelin’s day was done, he had captured two gold medals in front of thousands of screaming fans and an entire nation gleaming with pride—both within the span 30 minutes.
“That was the greatest moment of my career,” he said. “Still the best day of my life.”
After earning another gold in Sochi during the 2014 games, Hamelin is still chasing Olympic glory. He plans to skate again at the 2018 Olympics in South Korea, admitting that it will be his final competition as a professional speed skater. It’s the passion that Hamelin holds for the sport that keeps him motivated. He told the students in attendance that the most important thing is the day-to-day goals that he sets for himself. The Olympics only come every four years; if Hamelin wasn’t motivated to work every day on his craft, than he would not have the hardware to show for it.
“If you believe in yourself, you can do anything,” he said.