BRITISH short track medal hope Elise Christie has been a marked woman this season, but she stamped her authority on her rivals to comfortably progress through her 500m heat at the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Christie got her tactics spot on yesterday, staying out of trouble and only hitting the front in the closing laps, with some deft overtaking that would have made Jackie Stewart proud.
It secured her progress to the quarter-finals of the sprint event – the weakest of the three that she has entered in Russia – alongside team-mate Charlotte Gilmartin.
But the world bronze medallist over 1000m did it the hard way, with a tough draw meaning there was no margin for error in her race plan.
“When I saw the draw I was a bit upset, I knew it was going to be a real challenge,” said Christie, after coming home ahead of home favourite and sprint specialist Sofia Prosvirnova.
“Sofia is a very good skater over 500m, she’s made World Cup finals this season and I haven’t, so that’s a great scalp to take and it certainly shows that my form is pretty good, which is nice.
“It was always going to be tough and I had to really work to get out in front. It was a good chance to work on everything I need to fine tune.
“We decided it was best to work on my outside overtakes, I could have nipped up the inside but I wanted to persevere and work on something that’s a bit of a weakness for me and it paid off.”
Christie will return to action on Thursday but it won’t get any easier, even with reigning champion and world record holder, China’s Wang Meng, absent through injury.
“This is a good chance to warm up and work on those weaknesses in a competition environment because the 500m is not so important to me. I’m very honest about using this a build into the other two events,” admitted Christie.
“I had a lot more speed in me, I was being patient and just trying not to get knocked over. I’ve a lot more in the tank and there is a lot of racing to come. It’s been nice to get here and just get a feel for the environment.
“You’ve got to get the tactics right on the day and I’m really pleased to have nailed it.”
Meanwhile, Michel Mulder of the Netherlands won the men’s 500 metres speed skating title by the tightest of margins yesterday, with his twin brother Ronald settling for bronze in another Dutch clean sweep of the medals.
Mulder clocked a total time of 69.31 seconds for his two 500m races, pipping compatriot Jan Smeekens by just 0.01 seconds.
Ronald Mulder was 0.15 seconds behind his brother as the Dutch duo became the first twins to win medals in the same individual Winter Olympics event since Americans Phil and Steven Mahre achieved the feat in alpine skiing at the 1984 Sarajevo Games.
Smeekens, competing a day before his 27th birthday, topped the time sheets after the first round of races with a blistering 34.59 seconds to leave the Mulder twins and defending champion Mo Tae-bum of South Korea trailing.
Ronald Mulder then produced a best-of-the-day 34.49 seconds to jump from sixth into gold medal position after his second run with only six skaters left. However, twin brother Michel bettered his sibling’s aggregate total in the penultimate heat against a disappointing Mo, who finished fourth.
Mulder watched on as Smeekens almost snatched the gold from him, and was left looking on anxiously as the scoreboard took its time to announce the winner.