Opinion: Have we forgotten Elise Christie is human?

By Will Moulton

Once again the peculiar phenomenon that is the Winter Olympics has come and gone, leaving us gaping in awe at the feats of unfathomably cool athletes who have done things we never thought possible.

But while it is likely most will forget about the chin balancing antics of Billy Morgan, the daredevilry of each skeleton competitor and the madness of the moguls promptly, there is one athlete whose efforts will stick in the memories of many Brits for a while to come.

The script accompanying Elise Christie’s Olympic career is one so far fetched that even the most experimental of Hollywood producers would not give it a second glance. After the disaster that was Sochi 2014 – where she was penalised in each of the three events she attempted – surely the stage was set in PyeongChang for the reigning short track world champion to get the fairytale ending she deserved.

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Unfortunately for Christie the South Korean county was only to provide a setting upon which the horror story continued, crashing out of the 500m and 1500m whilst being disqualified contentiously in the quarter-finals of the 1000m.

But while there was sympathy aplenty for the Sunday Times Sportswoman of the Year four years ago, opinions were highly divided this time. Reasons given for her struggles varied hugely from pure misfortune to conspiracies against her and even suggestions that she just isn’t as good as she has been built up to be.

Views on her decision to race in the 1000m after suffering a nasty accident in the 1500m that saw her carried off the ice on a stretcher have also differed.

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Personally, while I don’t necessarily think it was the right decision, I have nothing but huge admiration and respect towards Christie for making that choice. After everything she had been through – all the literal and metaphorical pain – to come out, risk further injury and give it one final go for both herself, her team and her fans was, in my opinion, inspirational.

Interestingly enough I put this thought to two work colleagues of mine and they immediately quashed my argument, stating Christie had no choice but to come out and compete as she is an elite athlete and that’s what she’s there for. They would have been disappointed if she hadn’t and stated we shouldn’t feel sympathy for her because she’s doing what so many of us can only dream of.

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While this is a valid argument that has been made by many, I also think it neglects to recognise one key characteristic of Christie: she is a human being with feelings.

So often elite sportspeople are put on such a high pedestal that we forget they aren’t really any different to us, they just happen to be incredibly skilled at a job which is viewed by millions of people worldwide.

Would we have done what Christie did in that situation? The answer is that we won’t know because our jobs and lives just aren’t comparable.

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Can you imagine what it’s like to have every move you make scrutinised, to know that whatever happens you will be splashed across the internet and newspapers the next day, to have complete strangers judging you 24/7? Sounds horrible doesn’t it, but that’s the reality Christie was facing and yet she risked further condemnation – as well as damage to her personal health – to try and achieve her dream.

So many of us in that situation would likely have chosen to hide behind the injury in order to protect ourselves, but the fact is she didn’t and for that she should be highly commended.

As for her performances, while numerous theories have been banded about, BBC commentator Simon Brotherton certainly made me feel silly with his explanation as to why Christie didn’t win a medal: she was out of form.

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It sounds so simple doesn’t it? In many sports that’s the first excuse we turn to, stating someone is out of form. But not for Christie.

While short track speed skating is a lottery, it is often the case that the best will overcome the chaos and take victory, as she proved herself by dominating last year’s World Championships.

And looking back at when and where she fell, it is clear to see that Christie was not at the top of her game. While last year she looked graceful and elegant at the front of the field, in PyeongChang she was scrapping for second and third in each race. Ultimately each time it went awry it was because she was trying her best to make up places.

There was no conspiracy, nor had Christie been bigged up to standards she wasn’t capable of reaching. It was simply the case that she wasn’t quite on her best form.

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So what next? Well once she has recovered from this injury the Scot has already stated she will be back in Beijing and I for one cannot wait to see that.

 The story cannot go unresolved and I want to see this brave, plucky and ultimately hugely talented athlete finally stand atop an Olympic podium.

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