KOLOMNA, Russia -- Charles Hamelin ended the short-track speedskating World Cup season on a high note Sunday, winning gold in the 1,000-metre event in the final Olympic qualifying event of the year.
Canada's strong showing throughout the World Cup season has qualified it for the maximum number of spots in every short-track speedskating event at the Sochi Games in February.
"With the beginning to the season that I've had, beginning with the Canadian trials in August, I have nothing to doubt in myself. How strong I am, how fast I am," said Hamelin. "I think that the program that our coaches have put in front of us is the perfect one for us."
Hamelin won gold on Sunday despite having to withdraw from Saturday's competition with a bruised left thigh. He won the race in one minute 24.923 seconds. France's Thibaut Fauconney (1:25.054) was second followed by American J.R. Celski (1:25.148) and China's Tianyu Han (1:25.195).
Charle Cournoyer of Boucherville, Que., and Olivier Jean of Lachenaie, Que., both stumbled in the preliminaries and finished at the bottom of the rankings.
Sochi won't be Hamelin's first Olympics. He won gold in the 500 metres and 5,000-metre relay at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and silver in the 5,000-metre relay in 2006 in Turin. Despite that wealth of experience, this World Cup season has been formative for Hamelin.
"I've learned a lot on what to do at the Olympics in two months," said Hamelin. "I feel very confident that I can be on the podium in every distance and I'm going there with that confidence."
The men's relay team did not reach the main final on Sunday. Charles Hamelin's fall in the 30th lap created too large a gap for his teammates to close, excluding them from the A final.
The team of Charles and Francois Hamelin, from Ste-Julie, Que., Cournoyer, Yellowknife's Michael Gilday and Jean took advantage of a fall by the two leading teams in the B final as the final bell was ringing to win the heat and take fifth place.
First place went to the Americans (6:44.941), second to the Russians (6:45.552) and third to South Koreans (6:45.470).
Yves Hamelin, Canada's short-track speedskating program director and father to Charles and Francois, believes that Canada is poised for a very strong showing in Sochi, possibly better than its performance in Vancouver.
"They're healthier, they're stronger," said Yves Hamelin. "Four years to keep building up their performance. Getting more experience, having the chance to do more semis and finals. Our guys in these critical races, we see them reacting very well, even better than they were in Vancouver.
"That's very encouraging to see such a large racing background develop over the last four years, in addition to what they had prior to Vancouver."
With several months to prepare for the Olympics, Charles Hamelin isn't getting ahead of himself.
"I'll be focusing on my training," said Hamelin. "I will not be trying to focus on things too far away. I think that's the way to relieve the pressure."
On the women's side, Valerie Maltais of La Baie, Que., was in fine form in the 1,000-metre event, leading until the last turn when she lost her footing and found herself in the mats, ultimately finishing fourth in 1:29.169.
"On the last corner, Elise Christie from Great Britain passed me inside," said Maltais, who said she was uninjured in the fall. "The pass was clean but it was tight. She hit the block and I stepped on that block when I fell."
Marianne St-Gelais of St-Felicien, Que., recovering from a virus, finished 14th, followed by her teammate Jessica Hewitt of Kamloops, B.C., in 15th. Neither skater advanced past the quarter-finals.
In the 3,000-metre relay, China won in 4:06.785 after taking the lead with seven laps to go. The South Koreans (4:06.215) were second and Italy (4:09.217) third. The Canadian team of Edmonton's Jessica Gregg, Maltais, St-Gelais, Hewitt and Marie-Eve Drolet of Laterriere, Que., were shut out of the podium, finishing fourth in 4:11.880.
"I'm very excited (for the Games), I'm very for the whole team because everyone got their spots for the individual distance and also for the relay," said Maltais.
The relay was Drolet's return to competition, after battling injury since last August's Olympic trials. Gregg fell during the race, slowing down her team's rhythm.