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Elise Christie: Olympic luck, injury and her long track adventure

By Alasdair Hooper

“What’s the one thing that hasn’t gone wrong at the Games for Elise? There you go.”

British speed skater Elise Christie and the Winter Olympics haven’t exactly gone hand in hand.

Save for a promising showing as a youngster at Vancouver 2010, the 28-year-old’s outings in Sochi 2014 and more recently in PyeongChang 2018 have been fraught with bad luck.

Whether it is disqualification, a clipped skate, injury or social media abuse the Livingston-born skater has ticked every box in the ‘what could go wrong’ category.

LISTEN: Speed Skating Special: Elise Christie

The ability is blatantly there – you don’t become 2017 World Champion or win the Sunday Times Sportswoman of the Year without it – but by Christie’s own admission her form in 2018 was slightly off where it was the year previously.

But that didn’t stop her believing a medal was on the cards out in South Korea during February’s Winter Olympics, particularly in the 1000m – the event the short track speed skater calls her ‘jam’.

“I didn’t think there was any way that I could get all three distances wrong”

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“I turned around to my coach a few days before the 1500m and said maybe I shouldn’t skate it and I should just focus on the 1000m,” she said.

“But it is still a medal opportunity that is really important, and I wouldn’t pass a medal opportunity up.

“Some people would give up anything to be in this position where they could go out and try and skate for a medal.

“So I was like ‘we’re not going to do that’ but my preferred event was the 1000m.

Listen to Elise Christie on our special below:

“Mentally I believed I was going to medal – I did believe that – and I didn’t think there was any way that I could get all three distances wrong.

“I was physically capable of medalling in all three, mentally capable of doing it and I believed it would happen.

“In the 500m I was very close, I got clipped on the last corner.

LISTEN: Episode 28: Tamara Taylor

“I was in third place until that point and actually would have come second because someone got a penalty.

“Had I not got clipped on that last corner I would be a silver medallist right now at 500m and we’d all be sitting telling a different story about it.

“But that is short track.”

“Most top athletes would have done the same thing”

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Short track speed skating is notoriously unpredictable and when the stakes are as high as at an Olympics every competitor on the start line is ready to go all guns blazing.

Quite often that has consequences.

In the 1500m semi-final – the event she briefly considered sitting out – Christie crashed out and badly injured her ankle ligaments.

READ: Opinion: Have we forgotten Elise Christie is human?

Despite the severity of her ankle injury, which had swelled up so much she could barely get her foot into her skate, she still took to the ice for the 1000m.

In the end that final attempt for a medal also ended in disqualification.

Just imagine what could have been had she not been clipped at the end of the 500m final or had in fact decided to sit out the 1500m.

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“I could be sitting here as Olympic Champion right now,” Christie added.

“It would have been challenging to win the 1000m, but I don’t think it would have been challenging to get into the final – it was my best distance and it always has been.

“But I know trying to skate, with the ankle the way it was, was probably a bad idea.

“But what else would you do?

“I think most top athletes would have done the same thing to be honest.”

“My poor mum” 

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In the immediate aftermath of her decision to take to the ice again following her injury Christie received both praise and criticism.

But it was a situation she thought she would never have to face.

“I remember leading into the games having a meeting with the whole team about if people get injured this is the protocol,” she explained.

LISTEN: Episode 27: Antony Shek

“I was sitting there thinking there is no way anyone is going to do that before the Games – come on.

“Then Katie [Ormerod] got badly injured in practice – that’s scary – but surely two members of Team GB can’t get injured at the Games and then it happened.

“I just remember sitting in the boards thinking ‘my poor mum’.

“I’m sitting in the boards injured and that was almost the most devastating part about it.

“I was devastated myself, but I knew my mum was there watching and I think it’s almost worse watching that happen than going through it.”

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She added: “It’s very difficult for me because if it had been a World Championships then there is no way I would have skated.

“Firstly, because you have the World Championship’s every year and, secondly, because I was badly injured.

“It wasn’t just sprained ankle – it was the worst injury I’ve ever had in my career and the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life trying to put a skate on and skate.

“I can see both points of view, I can see why some people praised that and some people thought it was a ridiculous idea and some thought it was embarrassing.

“But there’s two things for me. Firstly, I don’t skate because everyone else thinks it is great.

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“I skate because my family supported me to do that, my coach has put so much effort into me and I want to be the best.

“I still genuinely believe, because of how good I am at 1000m, that I could medal.

“I didn’t think I was going to win, there was no way I was going to go out and win because to win you have to be in really good shape.

“I still believed that I could medal and I knew that after that race I had two more days to try and calm my ankle down a bit more and get some training done.

“Because that’s the other thing, I went into that race and I hadn’t skated for two days so my fitness was bad.

LISTEN: Episode 26: Amy Conroy

“The other thing that really kept me going was my view on the world.

“Most kids are brought into the world innocent and very open-minded so by the time you’re an adult you have a very tainted view on life.

“Because of the impact of things that have happened to you, you feel the right to kind of judge people almost because of your own experiences.

“There wasn’t one kid that turned around to me and said I shouldn’t have got on or told me to give up.

“For me that was what got me back up.”

“Long track is going to happen”

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 Following the acrimonious way the events at PyeongChang unfolded there were suggestions Christie should look elsewhere for medal success – the world of long track.

The Scottish skater had suggested that she would be open to the idea but has now confirmed that it will be happening from the end of this year.

“I haven’t started long track yet but it is going to happen,” Christie said.

“I just haven’t been able to afford to buy myself new skates and blades yet because I’ve just spent about £7000 on new short track boots and blades.

“So yeah they’re not cheap.

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“I need to fund that and get myself some skates and blades at some point.

“As soon as I’ve managed that then I should be starting it.

“It should be around the end of this year that I get out there and UK Sport are very on board with me doing that.”

Have you listened to the SportSpiel podcast yet? Find all our episodes here.

Image credit: Martin Holtom

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