SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Canadian short track star Charles Hamelin endured 11 hours of pain for a back tattoo that embodies his mindset going into the 2014 Sochi Games. It shows his skin shredded to reveal a body made of steel, stamped with the five Olympic rings.
“It is as if I have been made for the Olympics, racing there and winning medals,” he told Reuters on Tuesday at the short track training venue in Sochi.
Hamelin, who said his tattoo was inspired by a childhood love of comic-book superheroes, won an Olympic silver medal in the 5,000 meters relay in Torino.
Four years later in Vancouver he improved the 5,000 relay medal to a gold, and also won the 500m individual title.
Going into the February 7-23 Games, he has accumulated eight world titles and is ranked in the world’s top three in the 500, 1,000 and 1,500m.
Hamelin, 29, was introduced to speed skating by his younger brother Francois, who took up the sport aged five when their mother pushed her three boys to find an outlet for their energy.
“I randomly picked speed skating,” said Francois, who is two years younger.
Since then short track has become a family affair. A third brother, Mathieu, also skated and their father became their coach.
At the 2010 Games in Vancouver, Charles and Francois stood side-by-side on the podium, taking gold in the 5,000m relay.
Hours earlier, Charles had seized gold in the 500m, cheered wildly by his girlfriend Marianne St-Gelais, who won two silver medals in short track in Vancouver.
The video of the couple leaping over a barrier to share a kiss after Hamelin’s 500m medal became a hit on YouTube.
“People show it to us a lot,” Hamelin said. “It brings up so much emotion for Marianne and me even when we hear the song that goes with it.”
Four year on, the Canadian Olympic trio appear to be at the top of their game and ready to create fresh memories in Sochi.
Francois said his brother was an inspiration.
“He is like a machine. He is always as if he is going into war, as if he is a soldier,” he told Reuters.
“My brother is the guy to beat in every distance.”
Hamelin said he has worked hard on strategy in the four years since Vancouver to better control the raw fire that powers him in races, but which has also been known to trip him up.
In the past, if another skater passed him or he felt uncomfortable in his position, he might have wasted precious energy by racing back into the lead.
“I really worked hard ... to make sure I am calm, I don’t do anything stupid or too demanding so I can fight up until the end,” he said after a training session in Sochi.
“I have become a better skater than four years ago in all the aspects of my skating - technically and physically.”
If Hamelin wins the 500m in Sochi he will be the first man to win gold over the distance in two consecutive Olympics.
But he is wary of two skaters he calls “his biggest rivals”: U.S. skater J.R. Celski, who has emerged as the face of the team after Apolo Anton Ohno retired, and South Korean-born Viktor Ahn, who now races for Russia and won three Olympic gold medals under the name Ahn Hyun-soo.
“Those two are awesome skaters,” Hamelin said. “They can lead, they stay in the back and pass, they can play in the pack so you can’t predict what they’re going to do in a race ... when I do win against them the feeling is even better.”
In the relay, the Canadians are up against speed skating powerhouses China and South Korea, an American team led by Celski and the Netherlands.
While Hamelin has been working to stay calm during races he admits he has no control over his nerves when he is on the sidelines watching his brother or girlfriend.
“I can’t hold myself,” he added. “I am so much more stressed than when I am racing.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford