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Canada's Cournoyer ready for bigger things after surprise short-track bronze

Canada's Charle Cournoyer celebrates after winning the bronze medal in the men's 500 metre final at the Sochi Winter Olympics Friday, February 21, 2014 in Sochi. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

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Canada's Charle Cournoyer celebrates after winning the bronze medal in the men's 500 metre final at the Sochi Winter Olympics Friday, February 21, 2014 in Sochi. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

SOCHI, Russia - It may have been a changing of the guard for the Canadian short-track speedskating team when Charle Cournoyer won a bronze medal in the 500-metre race Friday.

Cournoyer showed he may be ready to take over from the team's leading skater, Charles Hamelin.

The Boucherville, Que. native had been at home watching on television when Hamelin won gold in the same event at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. On Friday, it was Cournoyer's turn to step into the spotlight.

He was remarkably cool for a 22-year-old at his first Olympics, not backing down from his opponents in final — two Chinese skaters and Russian star Viktor Ahn, who ended up winning gold.

And he was all but guaranteed a medal when China's Liang Wenhao crashed, although he wasn't able to catch Dajing Wu for the silver.

"To get to skate with the Canadian flag after the race was fantastic," said Cournoyer. "I had to tell myself 'The race is over, I've got to get off the rink.'

"But I'm really happy."

In the media whirlwind following the race, Cournoyer said he was aware of what winning an Olympic medal means and was looking forward to celebrating in the next few days.

"It'll be a big night, but I'm up for it," he said with a laugh.

The medal lifted some of the gloom around the short-track team after a mostly disappointing Games. The team's target was five medals, and Cournoyer's performance gave it three.

Hamelin got the team off to a big start with an unexpected gold medal in the 1,500-metres. But he crashed during the heats in consecutive races. The men's relay team also failed to defend it's 2010 gold medal when Hamelin's brother, Francois, wiped out on a marker disc.

The team also got a silver medal from the women's relay team.

On the final day of short-track Friday, Valerie Maltais of La Baie, Que., was ever so close to reaching the women's final. But she fell on the final turn of her semifinal while in second place.

"My skates got tangled a bit and I sent myself flying into the wall," she said.

Marie-Eve Drolet, of Laterriere, Que., lost in the quarter-finals.

Olivier Jean of Lachenaie, Que., suffered the same fate in the men's 500 metres.

It was a long night for Charles Hamelin, who had to wait through all the individuals events to skate in the B-final of the 5,000-metre relay. That Canada won was of little consolation.

Instead of Hamelin, Ahn emerged as the star of the Games with four medals.

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