SOCHI, RUSSIA - If you want to picture how defending Olympic 500-meter short track champion Charles Hamelin perceives himself, just take a look at his back.
Spanning his shoulder blades is a tattoo that makes it appear like his skin has been shredded to reveal steel plates underneath emblazoned with the Olympic rings.
Hamelin said Wednesday the tattoo is “like I’ve been made to race at the Olympics and win medals.”
He’s done it before — becoming Canada’s only multiple gold medallist of the Vancouver Games when he won the 500-meters and the 5,000-meter relay.
Now he’s aiming to make more history in Sochi by becoming the first short track skater to win back-to-back gold in the 500.
The easy-going Canadian says that like the fictional superheroes he followed as a kid, he has two personas.
“I’m another person when I’m on the ice,” he said. “I don’t make any gift to anyone on the ice. Everyone is my rival — even if it’s my brother … It just shows a little bit of what I am on the ice and off the ice.”
Getting into the mindset of a man of steel is no bad thing in short track speedskating, a sport which some have described as a roller derby on ice.
“When you’re the champion you have a target on you,” Hamelin said.
Hamelin says he and his teammates have another edge over their opponents — a new skating suit that mixes aerodynamics with protection against slashing skate blades that are an occupational hazard on the short track.
He concedes that the advantage of a more aerodynamic suit may only be mental in the short but frenetic races, but he’ll take any advantage he can get.
“For us in short track, the aerodynamics is less a point than in long track,” he said. “So … if you take it positively it’s a mental bonus and it’s just going to help us.”
Japan’s Nao Kodaira banged out the fastest time in the women’s 500 meters of 10 speedskaters who took part in test runs on Wednesday ahead of the Sochi Olympics.
Kodaira clocked 37.93 seconds while compatriot Miyako Sumiyoshi timed 38.76. World record holder Lee Sang-hwa of South Korea, who rewrote her own mark for the fourth time with a mark of 36.36 in November last year, did not participate.
Maki Tabata, Nana Takagi, Ayaka Kikuchi and Masaki Oshigiri were scheduled for test runs the same day in the women’s 1,500 meters and Shoko Fujimura will skate in the women’s 3,000.
Joji Kato and Keiichiro Nagashima did not take part in runs for the men’s 500 meters.