At 29, Hamelin was the oldest skater in the first final of the short track competition. The wily veteran maintained a top-three position throughout most of the 14-lap race, leaving enough at the end to defeat a loaded field.
Hamelin raised his arms in triumph after crossing the finish line at the Iceberg Skating Palace. He pumped his right arm through the turn and went hard into the pads to embrace his father Yves, the team leader for Canada.
Han Tianyu of China took silver. Viktor Ahn of Russia earned the bronze, giving his adopted country its first-ever short track medal. J.R. Celski, the 2010 bronze medalist from Federal Way, Wash., finished fourth.
Ahn stepped on the medals podium to wild cheers from the mostly Russian crowd. He was a three-time gold medalist for his native South Korea, but after missing the Vancouver Games four years ago, he changed his name and became a Russian citizen. He was known as Ahn Hyun-soo when he won gold in the 1,500 at the 2006 Turin Olympics.
Hamelin won gold in the 500 at his home country’s Olympics in 2010 and was part of Canada’s winning 5,000 relay at the 2006 Turin Games. After a long embrace with his father, Hamelin kissed girlfriend Marianne St-Gelais, who had earlier advanced to the 500 final on Thursday.
Late in the race, surprise finalist Jack Whelbourne of Britain crashed and took out one of the rubber lane markers. Lee Han-bin, the lone South Korean in the final, finished sixth. He was advanced into the final by the judges after teammate Sin Da-woon crashed in the semifinals and took Lee down with him.
Eddy Alvarez of Miami, Fla., was penalized in the semis.
“The Russian guy opened his lane up a little bit so I thought I’d make a real quick pass in front of him,” he said. “I like to pick people off. That’s my specialty. But things happen in short track. It’s an unexpected sport.”
Chris Creveling of Kintersville, Pa., was eliminated in the heats. The short trackers share the same arena with figure skating.
“It’s like a puddle for us, but it’s the same ice for all of us,” Creveling said. “There’s a lot of jostling and bumping, which is what happens with bad ice.”
In the women’s 500 preliminaries, Fan Kexin of China won her heat as she bids to extend her nation’s dominance in the sprint race. For the first time since 2002, someone other than Wang Meng will win the gold. Wang broke her ankle in training last month, forcing her to miss these games.
Also advancing was St-Gelais and Arianna Fontana of Italy, the silver and bronze medalists from Vancouver. South Koreans Shim Suk-hee, Park Seung-hi and Kim Alang moved on.
Joining Fan in the semifinals were fellow Chinese skaters Liu Qiuhong and Li Jianrou.
In a surprise, Emily Scott of Springfield, Mo., was the lone American to qualify for the semis. Skating in Fan’s heat, Jessica Smith of Melvindale, Mich., fell on the first lap after it appeared her blade made contact with the skate of Russian Valeriya Reznik, but the judges made no change in the order of finish.