Christie carrying the hopes of British short track in PyeongChang
Nicky Gooch’s bronze in the men’s 500m at Lillehammer 1994 is Great Britain’s one and only Olympic short track speed skating medal. Hoping to change that at PyeongChang 2018 is Scottish speedster Elise Christie, who is the reigning women’s overall world champion over the distance.
Christie has little reason to look back on Sochi 2014 with much affection. An Olympic debutant at Vancouver 2010, the British skater had high hopes of climbing onto a podium or two on her second Winter Games appearance.
At the time she was the reigning European 1,000m and 500m champion, but the Scot endured a fortnight to forget, suffering disqualification in each of the three events she entered. Her biggest disappointment came in the 500m final, a race in which she crossed the line second, but was stripped of silver for cutting across the line of Italy’s Arianna Fontana and causing a crash.
“When something breaks your heart it takes a while to love it again,” said Christie a year after her chastening experiences in Russia. “I was really close to giving it all up. I never thought the sport could have such an impact on my life.
“I don’t think I would have continued after Sochi at all if I hadn’t had all the support. The positive is it’s been a year already, so I’ve only got three more years until the next one.”
A first for her country
Born in the Scottish town of Livingston, Christie started out as a figure skater, but was quickly drawn to short track after a club opened at her local ice rink.
She trained once a week until she was 15 and proved herself so adept at her new sport that she was invited to join the national team. An outstanding junior, she moved to Nottingham to train full time and was 19 when she earned selection for her first Olympics at Vancouver 2010, where she came 11th in the 500m, 19th in the 1,000m and 20th in 1,500m.
Christie built on those results by taking British women’s short track to a new level, winning its first world championship medal – 1,000m bronze in Debrecen (HUN) in 2013 – and its first World Cup title – in the 1,000m.
After landing two European gold medals in Malmo (SWE) in January 2014, her seemingly inexorable rise then came to a sudden halt in Sochi.
Olympic gold in her sights
The Scot picked herself up from her Olympic nightmare by winning the European overall title in Dordrecht (NED) in 2015, returning to Sochi a year later to successfully defend it. She scored further firsts for British women’s short track in collecting World Championship 500m and 1,000m silvers in Moscow in 2015.
Christie laid down a marker for PyeongChang 2018 with a brace of 1,000m victories at the Olympic test event in December 2016, and backed up her double with a simply stunning display at the 2017 World Championships in Rotterdam (NED).
When she beat Canada’s Marianne St-Gelais and the Republic of Korea’s Shim Sukhee to the line in the 1,500m, she became the first female British skater to win gold at the event. A second quickly followed in the 1,000m, while a bronze in the 3,000m gave her a combined total of 89 points and the overall title ahead of St-Gelais and Shim.
Having proven what she is made of by recovering from her Sochi disaster in the best possible way, the steely Christie is determined to reward her fans across the world with Olympic success.
“I probably have my biggest fan base in Korea now,” she said. “When I went to the test event in PyeongChang, everybody there was shouting for me. It was an amazing feeling. 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.”