"I will be back for Beijing 2022!"
Elise Christie, who made British short track history by winning the first three World Championship gold medals for her country in 2017 (1,000m, 1,500m and the overall title), has experienced a series of disappointments at the Winter Games, at both Sochi 2014 and PyeongChang 2018. She will resume her quest to stand on the podium in Beijing in 2022.
Choosing short track speed skating
Elise Christie was born in Livingston, Scotland (25km east of Edinburgh), and started out figure skating. "Then a short track club opened up at our ice rink, and I started training once a week until I was 15." She was invited to join the national team and then decided to concentrate fully on her sport, moving to Nottingham to train full time, while also continuing her studies. Having been an exceptional junior, she made the selection for “Team GB” at age 19 and had her first Olympic experience at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver at the 2010 Winter Games. She participated in three different races, her best ranking being 11th in the 500m.
First British world medallist
At the same time, she was making British short track history: in the 2012-2013 season, she became the first Brit to mount the podium at the World Championships (third in the 1,000m in Debrecen, Hungary), then the first British skater to finish top overall in a World Cup event (the 1,000m). At the European championships in Malmö in January 2014, she won two gold medals, before heading to Sochi for a Winter Games edition that would be complicated to say the least.
Nightmare in Sochi
For Elise, who at the age of 23 was participating in her second Olympic Winter Games, Sochi 2014 was nothing short of a nightmare. She arrived as European champion in the 1,000m and 500m, but it was all to go badly wrong. For various reasons, she was disqualified from each of her three races, most memorably from the 500m final, which she finished by crossing the line in second place, but only after bringing down the Italian Arianna Fontana. The Winter Games were followed by a torrent of attacks on social media. About this experience, Elise has said: "I was really close to giving it all up. I never thought the sport could have such an impact on my life, and I don’t think I would have continued after Sochi at all if I hadn’t had all the support."
Victory in the PyeongChang Olympic test event
She then returned with a vengeance: double overall European champion in 2015 (Dordrecht, Netherlands) and 2016 (Sochi); the first Brit to win two silver medals in the World Championships (500m and 1,000m, Moscow 2015); a stand-out performance in the World Cup with, most notably, a win and a second place finish in the 1,000m during the Olympic test event in Gangneung, PyeongChang, in December 2016. This rise led to a magnificent result at the World Championships in Rotterdam in March 2017.
A historic win at the World Championships
When Elise crossed the finish line in the 1,500m ahead of Canada's Marianne St-Gelais and South Korea's Shim Suk-hee, she became the first female British skater to take gold at the World Championships. And she had not finished yet! Elise then claimed gold in the 1,000m, and bronze for the 3,000m: she became overall world champion with 89 points, ahead of St-Gelais (68 pts.) and Shim (52 pts.). 12 March 2017 is, needless to say, a historic date for British short track skating. Elise then turned her attention to the main objective, the 2018 Winter Games. "It’s strange – I probably have my biggest fanbase in Korea now. When I went to a test event in PyeongChang, everybody there was shouting for me. It was an amazing feeling." She added: "I definitely want to come away as an Olympic champion. Physically and psychologically, I feel in the right state to be able to do it."
She who dares does not win at PyeongChang 2018
Elise started strongly in the Gangneung arena on 10 February, setting an Olympic record in her 500m heat (42.872) and then beating it in the quarter-final (42.703), only for the South Korean Choi Min-jeong to better her time in the semi-final (42.222). In the last lap of the final, the Brit fell while battling for position with the Dutch skater Yara Van Kerkhof, who went on to take the silver medal behind Arianna Fontana. Four days later, Elise fell heavily again, injuring her right ankle, following a collision with the Chinese skater Li Jinyu in her 1,500m semi-final. She nevertheless took her position on the starting line for the 1,000m heats on 20 February, but her journey ended with more disappointment when she was disqualified (yellow card) after finishing in second place in her heat.
"I can promise Britain that I will fight back from this. I will come back for Beijing. I definitely think I can come back and medal in Beijing. It's just frustrating to have to wait four more years," said the 27-year-old triple world champion. And she is not ruling out taking up long track skating, with the possibility of competing in both sports at the next Winter Games. The quest for a spot on the Olympic podium continues...