“THAT’S short track” shrugged an emotional Elise Christie after she was denied a medal at the Winter Olympics in Sochi yesterday.
The 23-year-old from Livingston powered her way through the quarter-finals and semi-finals of her least-favoured distance of 500 metres and, with just four competitors in the final, was on the verge of a medal.
Christie thought that she might have delivered one, too, as she crossed the line in second place, but it was the crucial seconds leading up to that moment which ended up leaving the Scottish skater in tears and fuming. After a restart, Christie went for an inside move on Italian Arianna Fontana ahead of the second bend only for the two to collide and go flying into the crash mats.
Korean Park Seung-Hi, who was just ahead of the incident, also fell exiting the bend. Christie quickly dragged herself up to hold off Fontana and take second behind China’s Li Jianrou, who cruised to the gold medal and almost lapped the three fallers. However, it soon became clear that the race referee had not liked the look of Christie’s early move and penalised her, demoting her to a finishing position of eighth, beneath the four skaters in the ‘B’ final.
Christie’s coach, Nicky Gooch, the last Briton to win an Olympic medal at Lillehammer in 1994, pleaded her case but it fell on deaf ears as did an Italian claim for the final to be rerun.
It was all a bit familiar at the Iceberg Skating Palace, with fellow Briton Jack Whelbourne having been caught by a stray track marker in his 1500m final on Monday, injuring his ankle in the subsequent fall.
Christie’s ordeal could be consigned to history with her preferred 1,000m and 1,500m events still to come, the latter taking place tomorrow and the former not concluding until next Friday.
She said: “I thought I had more speed, so I moved up while I could, to stay out of the way of fourth place because [Park] was going to attack at the end. And I got bumped by the girl outside of me and it knocked me off my feet,” said Christie.
“And then everyone else was around me because, unfortunately, they got knocked over as well. Obviously I am quite upset about it. I did everything I could and it didn’t pay off.
“The referee has made a decision and I have to respect that. I do respect it, everyone will have a different opinion of what happened but that is the way short track works when it comes to it, it is out of my control. It is pretty annoying. People don’t normally take hits in the first lap. It is frustrating that the race was kind of over from the start. No one really got to see what they could do out there. I will probably need a day to get over it all. There is almost a week until my main event, so I will be fine for that.”
Christie isn’t the only British athlete at these Games to have taken a risk and missed out when a sensible approach might have led to a podium finish and a place in history.
She acknowledged that she perhaps should have aimed for a bronze – after it all it was her weakest event of the three at the Games – but then Christie admitted her instincts would have never allowed her to do that.
“One of things I find really hard about my race is that I can’t hold back and, had I just sat in third, I would have crossed the line in third and had a medal right now,” she added. “But, unfortunately, my instinct doesn’t allow me to do that and I just try to win the race.”
For Christie’s coach Gooch, it harked back to Lillehammer in 1994 when he thought he had taken 1,000m silver four days before his 500m bronze but was disqualified for barging an opponent.
“I kind of see it as history repeating itself. I don’t know how many people remember 1994, but this basically happened to me,” said Gooch.
“For me, as she entered the corner she was level with the Italian and, for me, the Italian closed the door on Elise and knocked her off her feet.
“The referee sees it as that Elise caused the crash by moving into the space when there wasn’t space.
“Whether you agree with that or not is irrelevant. The referee makes the decision and you can’t do anything about it.
“The Olympic Games always throws up these controversial results. You could argue about it until the cows come home, it makes no difference.
“The Italian coach wanted the race called back because three of them fell over. He was calling for a no-contest. Had they made the same call that Elise was still disqualified, she wouldn’t have re-run the race but the Italian coach wanted it rerun.”