Silver medallist St-Gelais a whirlwind as a child on shores of Lac-Saint-Jean

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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VANCOUVER - As a kid, Marianne St-Gelais stood on her head to watch TV rather than sit on her backside.
Her mom calls her a "gust of wind" who just couldn't sit still, barrelling through life with an energy and happiness that touched everyone.
Canadians saw a glimpse of that effervescence this week as the 20-year-old rookie won a silver medal in the 500-metre short-track speedskating final with unadulterated glee.
"She wasn't hyperactive, but she was active," says mother Francine Prive, who watched the drama unfold from the Pacific Coliseum stands with husband Gaetan St-Gelais.
"She was the type of person that when she went somewhere, it was, `OK, I'm coming through.' She pushed, she was curious, connected. When she was around, you saw her and you heard her."
St-Gelais grew up with three siblings on the shores of Lac-St-Jean in Quebec's Saguenay region. In her small town of St-Felicien, a friend one day asked if the kids were interested in trying short-track speedskating. Marianne was 10 when she joined the St-Felicien Lightning.
The family ended up loving the sport and found themselves part of a rich network of clubs in their region: there are at least seven within an hour's drive of their home.
But speedskating wasn't the only sport in which she shone. She was also competing provincially in track and cross-country skiing. Around age 15, she decided to focus on the ice. Then it was all a big blur of victories.
In 2007, she finished first overall at the Canada Winter Games with four gold medals in short track. Two years later, she became the world junior champion in the 500 metres and set a world junior record.
Prive says it came as a surprise when her homebody daughter started travelling and competing further and further away. Last year, she wasn't able to come home at all over the summer because of the intense training schedule.
"She was never a rebel," says Prive. "She was always in a good mood, always smiling.
"I never thought she would be the first to leave the house. She was the one who cried when she left."
When she started training with the national team, she met its rising star, Charles Hamelin, and the two became a couple. Hamelin's father, Yves, is the team's leader and his brother Francois also competes. With tight teammates Tania Vicent and Valerie Maltais, Montreal is her home away from home.
St-Gelais speaks a mile a minute in interviews, always with a sparkle in her eye and a smile plastered across her face. She's still the clown and was described in a recent team "yearbook" put together by Montreal La Presse as "the pest" for her constant nattering.
At a news conference Thursday, she said the medal was a huge reward after years of hard work for her and her family. She said she was anxious to see some footage of the celebrations back in St-Felicien.
"When I was back before Christmas, I already felt the energy of the people there," said St-Gelais, whose younger sister Catherine is now coming up in the sport.
"I understand their reaction (after the win) because I'm doing the same thing as they are. I'm very happy to represent St-Felicien and the whole Lac-St-Jean region."



Geographic location: Lac-Saint-Jean, VANCOUVER, Quebec Saguenay Canada Montreal

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