Silver Lining: Women's relay wins medal after Hamelin crashes out of 500 metres

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SOCHI, Russia - A silver medal in the women's 3,000 metre relay Tuesday came as a relief to the battered Canadian short-track speed skating team.

It was only the second medal of the Winter Games for a team that is used to winning much more than that.

And after a week of setbacks, it brought smiles back to their faces even though star skater Charles Hamelin's woes continued. He wasted another chance to pick up a fifth career Olympic medal with an inexplicable fall in the men's 500 metre heats.

The relay team of Marianne St-Gelais, Marie-Eve Drolet, Valerie Maltais and Jessica Hewitt got silver even though they finished third.

The Chinese team came in second, but was disqualified for blocking, moving Canada up to silver behind the first-place South Koreans. That put Italy, which had a skater fall in the final, onto the podium with the bronze.

The silver left the women's team 7 for 7 in relay medals since they won gold in short-track's Olympic debut in Albertville, France in 1992. They also won silver in Lillehammer, Norway in 1994, in Turin, Italy in 2006 and in Vancouver in 2010.

It was a happy day for 32-year-old Drolet, who won a second career Olympic medal to go with her relay bronze at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City.

"It's been a long time, but it feels just as good," said the Laterriere, Que. native "A silver medal is even better, but in 2002 it was my first Olympic medal."

It also helped cheer up St-Gelais, who had also been struggling at the Games after failing to reach the final of her best event, the 500 metres, last week.

"The medal helps take away some of the pain," the St. Felicien, Que. native said.

Before the relay, she was eliminated in the 1,000 metre preliminaries, as well as having to watch her boyfriend Hamelin fall in a second straight race since he opened the Games with a gold medal in the 1,500 metres.

"I don't know what happened. I could feel my skate give out a little bit," said Hamelin. "It's like the ice was breaking under my blades just then, but everything up until that moment was really smooth.

"Short track can be a cruel sport. It doesn't take much to make a person fall."

St-Gelais, who celebrated her 24th birthday on Monday, tried a tight, inside pass against Jorien Ter Mors and ended up falling. After review, the race officials decided the Dutchwoman had done no wrong.

"I had no luck today," said St-Gelais. "It was a good pass. My shoulders were ahead of her, but they decided I fell on my own. That can't be. I make guys fall down in training. I'm a tank. But I'm not here to question the judges' decisions."

She found it hard not to let the setback affect her in the relay.

"I was disappointed and I didn't want the other girls to pay for what happened to me in the 1,000, but I couldn't get it out of my mind," she said. "I took some time to talk to (coach) Frederik Blackburn.

"He had no doubts about wanting me in the relay. He just wanted me to put it behind me."

Maltais felt for Jessica Gregg, the relay team substitute who didn't get a chance to race and didn't get a medal. Maltais was in the same position in 2010.

"I just told Jess to hang in there — there's not much else you can say," said Maltais.

Maltais, from La Baie, Que., started the day by winning her heat in a 1,000 metre Olympic record of one minute 28.771 seconds, beating the old mark of 1:29.049 set by China's Zhou Yang at the 2010 Games.

Maltais and Drolet advanced to Friday's quarter-finals. Drolet was third in her heat, but moved up to second when China's Liu Qiuhong was disqualified.

Olivier Jean of Lachenaie, Que., and Charle Cournoyer of Boucherville, Que. advanced to the men's 500-metre quarter-finals.

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