Miami speed-skater Eddy Alvarez fell short of reaching the finals of the 1,500-meter short track competition at the Sochi Olympics on Monday after being penalized in the semis.
"The Russian guy opened his lane up a little bit so I thought I'd make a real quick pass in front of him," the 24-year-old said about the race. "I like to pick people off. That's my specialty. But things happen in short track. It's an unexpected sport."
Taking the gold – his third different Olympic title – was Charles Hamelin of Canada, skating clear of the chaos that makes short track so unpredictable.
At 29, Hamelin was the oldest skater in the final. The wily veteran maintained a top-three position throughout most of the 14-lap race, leaving enough at the end to defeat a loaded field.
"He deserves it," American J.R. Celski said. "He went out there and raced his (rear) off."
Hamelin raised his arms in triumph after crossing the finish line at the Iceberg Skating Palace. He pumped his right arm through the turn and went hard into the pads to first embrace his coach and then his father Yves, the team leader for Canada.
"It's so many emotions," Hamelin said. "I have put so much work into it."
Hamelin will have two more chances to win individual gold in the 500 and 1,000, and he'll be part of Canada's team in the 5,000 relay.
Han Tianyu of China took silver. Viktor Ahn of Russia earned the bronze, giving his adopted country its first-ever short track medal. Celski, the 2010 bronze medalist from Federal Way, Wash., finished fourth.
Ahn stepped on the medals podium to wild cheers from the mostly Russian crowd. He was a three-time gold medalist for his native South Korea, but after missing the Vancouver Games four years ago because of a career-threatening injury, he changed his name and became a Russian citizen. He was known as Ahn Hyun-soo when he won gold in the 1,500 at the 2006 Turin Olympics.
"I'm so happy to have this medal," Ahn said through a translator. "I did feel the support of my fans and it played a significant role in my accomplishment. I would like to thank everyone for trusting in me."
Ahn became the second Winter Olympian to win medals for two different countries.
"It's even better when you win against those guys, those legends of the sport," Hamelin said.
Hamelin won gold in the 500 at his home country's Olympics in 2010 and was part of Canada's winning 5,000 relay at the 2006 Turin Games. After a long embrace with his father, Hamelin kissed girlfriend Marianne St-Gelais, who had earlier advanced to the 500 final on Thursday. Hamelin's brother, Francois, also competed in the 1,500.
"It put my pride even higher," Hamelin said. "To just be here with them is awesome."
Late in the race, surprise finalist Jack Whelbourne of Britain crashed, affecting the momentum of Celski, who was close by.
"The last time, I was the benefactor. I won the bronze because of a lot of falls," Celski said about his 1,500 result in Vancouver. "It happens to everybody. Sometimes you're on the good side of it. Sometimes you're on the bad side."
Lee Han-bin, the lone South Korean in the final, finished sixth. He was advanced into the final by the judges after teammate Sin Da-woon crashed in the semifinals and took Lee down with him.
Chris Creveling of Kintersville, Pa., was eliminated in the heats.
The short trackers share the same arena with figure skating.
"It's like a puddle for us, but it's the same ice for all of us," Creveling said. "There's a lot of jostling and bumping, which is what happens with bad ice."
In the women's 500 preliminaries, Fan Kexin of China won her heat as she bids to extend her nation's dominance in the sprint race. For the first time since 2002, someone other than Wang Meng will win the gold. Wang broke her ankle in training last month, forcing her to miss these games.
Also advancing was St-Gelais and Arianna Fontana of Italy, the silver and bronze medalists from Vancouver. South Koreans Shim Suk-hee, Park Seung-hi and Kim Alang moved on.
Joining Fan in the semifinals were fellow Chinese skaters Liu Qiuhong and Li Jianrou.
In a surprise, Emily Scott of Springfield, Mo., was the lone American to qualify for the semis. Skating in Fan's heat, Jessica Smith of Melvindale, Mich., fell on the first lap after it appeared her blade made contact with the skate of Russian Valeriya Reznik, but the judges made no change in the order of finish.
Moving on to the women's 3,000 relay final next Tuesday were South Korea, Canada, Russia and Hungary.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.