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Short track team struggles: Gelais fails to make 500 final, men's relay team out

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SOCHI, Russia - Francois Hamelin couldn't have felt worse after his fall ended Canada's hopes for a relay medal in short-track speedskating at the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Catastrophe struck the men's team in one of Canada's biggest setbacks yet at the Games.

Halfway through the semifinal, Hamelin tripped on a marker and fell, and Canada's chances of defending its Olympic relay gold medal from the 2010 Games in Vancouver were gone.

"I lost us the medal," a tearful Hamelin said of the incident, which came only days after his brother, Charles, had the team on a high from winning the individual 1,500-metre race. "I cost Canada a medal. I really feel guilty."

Earlier in the day, Marianne St-Gelais fell short in her bid for a medal in the women's 500 metres.

It was only the second time in seven Winter Games since 1994 that the men's relay team failed to win a medal.

The relay team is the defending Olympic and world champion, as well as the world-record holder in the event. So it was a sombre day at the Iceberg rink for the Canadian squad.

But at least Francois Hamelin could count on support from teammates Charles Hamelin, Olivier Jean and Michael Gilday.

"Francois is completely devastated," said Gilday.

And the mishap ended Charles Hamelin's chances of winning a medal in all four men's short-track events.

"That wasn't my focus," said Charles, who seemed less depressed about the day than his teammates. "In short-track, you can have glory one day and have your heart broken the next.

"For sure, it would have been fun to win four medals, but I guess now I'll have to go for the hat-trick."

Hamelin, of Sainte-Julie, Que., also lost a chance to become Canada's most decorated Olympian.

He needed a medal in all four events to pass speedskater Cindy Klassen and speedskater/cyclist Clara Hughes, who each have six medals.

Coach Derrick Campbell said the skaters could empathize with Francois because they've all had the same thing happen in a relay before.

"The team supports Francois," he said. "It may take the guys a night to get over it, but we should be OK tomorrow."

Francois may feel worse because he only just made the team after winning a battle for the last spot with Guillaume Bastille of Riviere-du-Loup, Que.

St-Gelais, who won silver in the 500 metres in 2010, lost in the semifinals and ended up seventh.

"I'm disappointed, but I tell myself I will have other chances to bounce back," she said. "In Vancouver, the 500 metres was my only event, but here there's the 1,000 and the 1,500 as well as the relay."

While she tried to put up a brave front, St-Gelais ended up breaking into tears. She had said upon her arrival in Russia her goal was win a medal in the 500, her favourite event.

In the final, Jianrou Li of China won the gold after the three skaters ahead of her all fell.

Britain's Elise Christie came second but was disqualified, so Arianna Fontana of Italy won silver and Seung-Hi Park of South Korea got the bronze.

Injured Chinese star Wang Meng couldn't defend the title she has won at every Winter Games since 2002.

Valerie Maltais of La Baie, Que., and Jessica Hewitt of Langley, B.C., were eliminated in the quarter-finals.

The team won't have much time to get over the setbacks, as competition continues Saturday with the men's 1,000 metres and the women's 1,500. Charles Hamelin, Jean and Charle Cournoyer all won their preliminary heats in the 1,000.

Charles Hamelin is trying to become the third skater to sweep the 1,000 and 1,500 at the same Olympics.

It was a tough day at the rink for the South Koreans. The men's team had a call go against it in the relay semifinals after a crash involving Lee Ho-suk and American Eddy Alvarez.

The referees advanced the U.S. team of Alvarez, J.R. Celski, Chris Creveling and Jordan Malone into the A final while the South Koreans were relegated to the B final.

Lee was leading on the outside late in the race with his left hand down on the ice when it clipped Alvarez's right skate. That sent Alvarez and Lee sliding into the pads.

"He slipped on his right and sat real deeply on his left, sticking his left arm out," Alvarez said. "It just so happened as I was crossing through, we collided. My hand and his skate. It didn't allow me to come through.

"I was going for the pass. I was coming with more speed. I'm glad the refs caught that."

— With files from The Associated Press

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