SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Canada's Charles Hamelin, who grabbed gold in the men's 1,500 meters at the Sochi Games on Monday, hailed his victory as sweeter for having been won against short track "legend" Viktor Ahn.
Home-crowd favorite Ahn, who won four Olympic medals for South Korea at the 2006 Turin Games before switching allegiance, seized Russia's first Olympic medal in the sport, winning bronze.
Chinese teenager Han Tianyu, who admitted to being "a little nervous" racing against his heroes at his first Olympics, took silver, with the three medalists finishing far ahead of the chasing pack in the stamina-demanding haul.
An ecstatic Hamelin lunged over the barriers to wrap his girlfriend and team mate Marianne St-Gelais in a hug - echoing an iconic moment of the Vancouver Games when the couple shared a kiss that has become a YouTube hit following Hamelin's 500m gold-medal triumph.
"It's fun to see Ahn back. In 2007 and 2008 he was awesome. He was always the one I was looking to beat. So it's even better when you win against these legends," Hamelin told reporters.
The victory was Hamelin's fourth Olympic medal and the first of a Games in which he looks competitive in another two individual distances as well as the 5,000m relay.
"In Vancouver, I started off disappointingly in the 1,500 so I wanted to come back strongly here," said Hamelin, who often travels with a backpack full of Olympic medals to show them off at speaking events.
But the Russian crowd reserved its biggest cheers for Ahn, who defected to the host-nation when he fell out with the South Korean federation over failing to win a spot for the 2010 Vancouver Games and changed his name to Viktor for good luck.
"I'm glad my medal came on the first day of competition," Ahn said, as he was bombarded by questions while Hamelin just sat quietly next to him.
"My greatest desire was to win the gold and I was working hard and dreaming of getting gold. But I am not majorly disappointed that my medal is not gold but bronze."
Ahn stayed back in the pack of flashing blades for the first few laps of the race but sneaked up to chase Han and Hamelin into the final stretch, winning his fifth Olympic medal and taking the home nation's total to five.
American J.R. Celski, who won two bronze medals in Vancouver despite almost missing the Games after a cut to his leg that needed 66 stitches, looked in contention for the medal mid-way through the 13 and a half laps but fell back to fourth.
In the notoriously unpredictable, high-velocity sport where crashes are frequent, world champion Sin Da-woon of South Korea failed to reach the A final after losing his balance and slamming into the barriers.
(Reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel and Pritha Sarkar; editing by Clare Lovell)