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St. Gelais, Hamelin have a winning deal _ no talk of short track away from rink

St. Gelais and Hamelin still going strong

MONTREAL — Marianne St. Gelais and Charles Hamelin have a rule: no talking about short track speed skating away from the rink.

It seems to be working for one of Canada's best-known sports couples because both are still among the world's elite and neither looks to be slowing down in a sport that usually rewards younger legs.

Their romance drew national attention with a long kiss on the side padding after Hamelin won gold at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. They are still together and still winning races.

"We made a pact 10 years ago when we met," St. Gelais said Wednesday. "We said we're both athletes, we each have our own coach, so we won't do that with each other."

"That" means talking about skating at home.

"I'm your girlfriend, you're my boyfriend," she said. "You're there to comfort me when I'm crying, but you're not there to say 'If I was you I'd do this or that.'

"We don't want to talk about blade problems or stuff like that. On the way home we talk about stuff but once we're at home, we're not allowed to talk about skating. It works like that."

It couldn't work much better for St. Gelais, who also stopped watching Hamelin's races because it got her to emotionally wound up.

The Saint-Felicien, Que. native who will turn 27 on Feb. 17 keeps getting stronger. She had a career-best 2015-16 season with 11 World Cup medals and followed with gold and silver medals at the world championships.

In four World Cups this season, she was on the podium six times and feels she can do even better.

"I don't scale myself with medals," she said. "It's about how I feel and how I'm improving tactically.

"This year I've been a little under where I want to be. Tactically I need to be more sharp and make better decisions. I work on it every day and I'm improving, but it's still not quick enough. I feel my opponents are a little ahead of me."

Hamelin had a slow start but bounced back with gold in the 1,000-metre race at Gangneung, South Korea in December. That showed the 32-year-old from Ste. Julie, Que., is still a force more than a decade after breaking into the top ranks of short-track.

"It's one of my worst years in terms of medals, but it is behind me and I've worked on what I had to work on," said Hamelin as skaters prepared for a selection meet this weekend at the Maurice Richard Arena. "The last World Cup was really good.

"Since we've been back it gets better every week and I'm really confident for this weekend."

A team of six men and six women will be picked to compete in the final two World Cup events of the season in Dresden, Germany and Minsk, Belarus in Febuary. From that, a team of five men and five women will enter the world championships March 10-12 in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Hamelin, a three-time Olympic gold medallist, is looking for top-three results in the final World Cups to boost his confidence for yet another run at the overall world championship title that has eluded him so far.

St. Gelais will be chasing the women's overall title and hopes that going head to head with rivals like South Korea's Choi Min-Jeong, Arianna Fontana of Italy and Elise Christie of Britain in World Cup races will be ideal preparation.

That they both are still contenders for the titles suggests that their arrangement on and off the ice seems to be working.

"I'm her boyfriend and she's my girlfriend and we want to keep it that way," said Hamelin. "I'm not her coach and she's not my coach.

"For sure, if she has a big question on her mind and she asks my point of view about it I'm going to answer, but I'm not going to be on the boards shouting (advice). We're not like that. At the rink we're teammates, not boyfriend and girlfriend."

Hamelin's spot as Canada's top skater was challenged this season when 20-year-old Samuel Girard took gold and silver at the season-opening World Cup in Calgary and followed with 1,500-metre gold in Salt Lake City in November. But the Ferland-et-Boileau, Que., skater is now looking to bounce back after a so-so effort in the two Asian World Cups.

He is considered by some as the next Hamelin, but Girard is just glad to get to be his teammate.

"Later I can say I skated with Charles Hamelin when he was 32 and he was still great," said Girard. "He's showing that the sport is not just for two or three years.

"He's showing you can be on the circuit for more than 10 years. I love that part of it, athletes with long careers. I want to continue this way."

Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press