Hamelin fourth in 1,500m short-track

There was little bitterness from Canadian short-track speedskater Charles Hamelin despite his being bumped off the podium at the 2006 Winter Olympics.

Hamelin, 21, in his first Olympic event, got a taste of how nasty short-track can get when he was jostled by a Chinese skater who was apparently clearing the way for a teammate to win a medal in the men's 1,500-metre final.

World champion Ahn Hyun-Soo of South Korea won gold, with teammate Lee Ho-Suk second and China's Li JiaJun third.

Hamelin, from Ste-Julie, Que., was cruising in third place with just over a lap to go when the two Chinese cut in front of him. Li Ye bumped him and was disqualified. Li JiaJun went on for the bronze.

''It was more strategy by the Chinese because they were two,'' said Hamelin, showing no anger. ''One tried to pass me and bump me and the other passed me and finished third.

''It happens a lot with the Asian teams. It's just like that. You just have to push it out of your head and concentrate on your next race.''

At that point, Hamelin looked as strong as any of the six finalists and admits he had gold on his mind.

''For sure,'' he said. ''If the Chinese was not there, I was expecting to catch the Koreans and try to pass them. I was going for the gold.''

Added coach Guy Thibault: ''If he wasn't bumped, he could have won that race.''

Catching the Koreans may have been a possibility, as Ahn won in two minutes 25.341 seconds - well off his world record of 2:10.639 in what turned out to be a tactical race rather than an all-out sprint.

Canada just missed having two of its own in the final, as Mathieu Turcotte of Montreal got caught out of position in his wild semifinal and missed qualifying by one place. He then won the B final, which counts only for final placings, in 2:24.558.

It seemed everyone in Turcotte's heat wanted to lead the pack, including Italy's Nicola Rodigari, who had the near sell-out crowd at the 8,700-seat Palavela Arena on its feet as he took his turn at the front with about four laps to go. Ahn won the heat with Li JiaJun second.

''I was fighting too much at the front to keep my position,'' said Turcotte. ''At the end I wasn't in good position and couldn't catch up.

''I wish I had stayed in front and controlled the race like I did in the B final.''

Hamelin, who was Canada's short-track skater of the year in 2005, will also be on the Canadian relay team that will try to win gold for a third consecutive Olympics.

If he was crushed at missing a 1,500-metre medal, he didn't show it.

''I'm feeling great about my race,'' he said. ''My objective was to make the final and I did it. I made the best race I was able to do with my legs.''

It was a happier day for the women's 3,000-metre relay team, which finished second overall out of two semifinal heats to powerful China. The final is to be run on Feb. 22 and Canada will be gunning for gold.

''We're really excited by the improvements we've made this year,'' said Alanna Kraus of Abbotsford, B.C., a member of the relay squad that won bronze at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City.

''We've taken maybe four seconds off our time, so we're really excited and we're waiting to go out and show them.''

The team of Kraus, Kalyna Roberge of St-Etienne, Que., Amanda Overland of Kitchener, Ont., and Tania Vicent of Laval, Que., was clearly excited by its performance.

''It was really, really good,'' said Overland. ''We know what we can do for the final and we're ready.

She said to beat the Chinese would be ''just phenomenal,'' and that the team hopes to sharpen its exchanges.

In women's 500-metre heats, Kraus, Roberge and Anouk Leblanc-Boucher of Montreal each won her heat and advanced to the quarter-finals on Wednesday.

The Canadian team wore wild new bodysuits, with red in front and what look like raging flames on the side against a burgundy background.

''I kind of like them,'' said Kraus. ''At first I was a little bit shocked, but they're growing on me. They're flashy.''