Early Life and Family
Charles Hamelin was born in Lévis but grew up in Sainte-Julie, east of Montreal, in Quebec. His younger brother, François, started speed skating at the age of five. Charles, the elder by two years, joined his brother on the ice when he was nine. Their father, Yves, also took a strong interest in his sons’ new passion and began coaching them. If it wasn’t for François’s interest in speed skating, Yves would likely have continued to coach Charles in baseball, where he played second base and right field. Yves stressed the importance of preparation when teaching his sons, telling them that “the journey is more important than the destination.”
The Hamelin brothers skated regularly at the Aréna Ste-Julie before joining the Montréal-International Speed Skating Club in 2000. Success at the national level soon followed.
World Junior Success
Charles Hamelin achieved his first international medal at the 2002 World Junior Short Track Speed Skating Championships in South Korea. On 6 January, Hamelin was part of the Canadian team that won a silver medal in the relay. A year later, at the 2003 World Juniors in Hungary, he finished second to South Korean Lee Ho-Suk in the men’s 500m and men’s 1500m and captured a bronze medal in the men’s 2000m relay.
World Cup Circuit
In 2004, Hamelin helped Canada win a silver medal in the men’s 5000m relay event at a World Cup in the Czech Republic; six days later, he won his first World Cup individual medal in Italy. He finished third in the men’s 1000m, an event that Hamelin would later refer to as his favourite discipline.
On 5 December 2004, Hamelin won his first World Cup race in Saguenay, Quebec. The victory in the 1000m was significant for Hamelin: he not only won in his home province but also beat American great Apolo Anton Ohno, proving that he was a rising star in short track speed skating. Hamelin completed his 2004–05 World Cup season with victories in the 1000m in Budapest and the 500m in Slovakia. He was also part of a strong Canadian men’s relay team that won two World Cup races and the world championship in Beijing that season.
First Olympic Medal, 2006
At the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Turin, Hamelin teamed up with Éric Bédard, Jonathan Guilmette, François-Louis Tremblay and Mathieu Turcotte to win the silver medal in the men’s 3000m relay. The Canadians placed behind a strong team from South Korea.
Two months after winning his first Olympic medal, Hamelin won his first World Championship gold medal in an individual event, taking the men’s 3000m in Minnesota. He also helped Team Canada win the World Championship gold medal in the relay for the second straight year.
Gold in the 500m
After focusing on the longer distances and the relay in 2006, Hamelin achieved great success in the shorter distances over the next few years. In 2006–07, he won World Cup races in the men’s 500m and 1000m and the world championship in the 500m. In 2008 and 2009, Hamelin won two World Cup competitions in the 500m and one in the 1000m. At the 2009 World Championships in Vienna, Hamelin won his second world championship gold medal in the 500m in three years (his third individual world championship to that date).
2010 Olympic Winter Games
Leading up to the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, Hamelin won gold medals in the 500m at World Cup events in Seoul and Montreal. These victories helped him win the 2010 World Cup circuit and become the gold medal favourite at the Olympics. In Vancouver, Hamelin did not disappoint. In the men’s quarterfinals for the 500m, Hamelin set an Olympic record with a time of 40.770. In the final, he was joined by François-Louis Tremblay, almost guaranteeing that a Canadian would win a medal.
The gold medal final was controversial. There was significant contact between Hamelin and South Korean Si-Bak Sung, as well as between Tremblay and American Apolo Anton Ohno. In the end, the judges concluded that Hamelin did not cause Sung to fall, while Ohno was disqualified for making contact with Tremblay. Hamelin won gold and Tremblay won bronze. A short time later, Hamelin and Tremblay were part of the third Canadian team in Olympic history to win a gold medal in the men’s 5000m relay.
From 2011 to 2013, Hamelin won 13 individual World Cup races and 10 medals at the World Championships. He became a strong all-around skater and was considered a medal contender in every short track speed skating discipline at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. His goal at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi was to win an individual race and defend Canada’s gold medal in the relay from the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver. “I want to win more medals, I want to be better at what I do,” he told The Toronto Star on 29 January 2014.
2014 Olympic Winter Games
Hamelin’s first competition at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi went extremely well. On 10 February, he easily won his heat and the semifinal of the men’s 1500m short track speed skating competition. In the final, Hamelin made an outstanding pass on American J.R. Celski and China’s Han Tianyu to take the lead with six laps left. It would be a lead that Hamelin would not relinquish on his way to capturing his third career Olympic gold medal.
Unfortunately for Hamelin, the 1500m would be his only success in Sochi. Considered a medal contender in every discipline, Hamelin fell in the heats of the 500m and quarterfinals of the 1000m (his brother, François, fell in the semifinals of the men’s 5000m relay).
2014 World Championships
The 2014 World Short Track Speed Skating Championships were special for Hamelin because they took place in his home province of Quebec. In front of a large crowd at the Maurice Richard Arena in Montreal, Hamelin won a gold medal in the men’s 1500m and a bronze medal in the men’s 500m. He also finished third overall behind Russian Victor Ahn and American J.R. Celski.
Love on the Ice
For Hamelin, speed skating is a family affair. As in the 2010 Olympic Games, Hamelin was joined on the 2014 Olympic short track speed skating team by his brother, François. His father, Yves, the short track program director for Speed Skating Canada, was also there to cheer the brothers on.
Hamelin’s partner at the time, fellow speed skater Marianne St-Gelais, was also present at the 2010 and 2014 Olympic Games. Their relationship was a prominent storyline at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, where St-Gelais won silver in the women’s 500m and women’s 3000m relay. Their kiss following Hamelin’s victory in the 500m was widely reported. In 2010, Hello! Canada magazine named St-Gelais and Hamelin on their 50 “Canada’s Most Beautiful” list. Canadians were treated to another display of affection at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.
According to Hamelin, “There’s nothing that can help me more than that: to have those guys [Marianne, François, Yves] with me [at Sochi]. You never know how it’s going to be during the Olympics. It’s just easy to go and talk to them. If I’m too happy, they will bring me back and make sure I’m ready to focus on what’s next. If I’m sad and disappointed, they help me bring a better side of myself and make sure I’m ready to race again.” (Interview with author, 16 December 2013)
Hamelin and St-Gelais announced the end of their relationship shortly after the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang.
A veteran of the national team, Hamelin has continued to enjoy success in international competition. At the 2015 World Championships, he took silver in the 1000m and bronze in the 1500m. In the 2015–16 season, he won six individual gold medals in five World Cups and was second overall at the 2016 world championships, winning gold in the 1000m and silver in the 5000m relay. He struggled early in the 2016–17 season but recovered to take another two gold World Cup medals, as well as bronze in the 1000m at the 2017 World Championships. In the lead-up to the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, Hamelin won three World Cup gold medals (one in the 1500m and two in the 5000m relay), as well as two bronze (in the relay and 1500m).
Hamelin was particularly pleased with his gold medal performance in the 1500m at the 2017 World Cup in Seoul, South Korea. “This is a medal that feels really good,” he told the CBC. "The way I raced today, the way I felt in the building and out on the ice, it was really something else, I think that is the best I’ve felt all season. It came at the right time, in the last 1500 and next-to-last day of competition before the Olympic Games. This is the result of the work that’s been done this year and also of the work I’ve done mentally over the years."
2018 Olympic Games and World Championships
Hamelin participated in February 2018 at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, as did his brother, François. He competed in the men’s 500m, 1000m and 1500m, but was penalized in all three events and failed to make the podium. However, he won bronze in the 5,000m relay with teammates Samuel Girard, Charle Cournoyer and Pascal Dion. With five Olympic medals in total, Hamelin tied the record for the most medals won by a Canadian male Olympian. He is tied with fellow short track speed skaters Franҫois-Louis Tremblay and Marc Gagnon, figure skater Scott Moir and middle distance sprinter Phil Edwards.
In March, Hamelin competed in the world short track speed skating championships, which were held in Montreal. He won gold in both the 1000m and 1500m races and silver as part of the men’s relay team, becoming overall world champion. He is the first Canadian champion since 1998, when Marc Gagnon won the title.
Honours and Awards
Male Short Track Athlete of the Year, Speed Skating Canada (2005, 2007–11, 2013–16)
Air Canada Athlete of the Year Award (2013)