THE thickness of a skate condemned Elise Christie to more Olympic heartache yesterday and had her coach muttering about dark forces conspiring against her and fearing for her mental state.
For the second time in three days short track speed skater Christie was left in tears after an error of judgment again frustrated her pursuit of the Olympic podium in Sochi.
The 23-year old from Livingston was looking to rebound from her fall in the final of the 500 metres and appeared to win her heat in the 1,500m to boost confidence best described as flagging.
But closer inspection – only because a photo finish was required to decide the places behind her – showed she had failed to cross the black line painted on the ice, skating just millimetres inside it.
Cue more tears of frustration, ending a miserable week that has also seen Christie shut down her Twitter account after bullying messages sent following her previous disappointment. Christie will now have three days to regroup before she returns to the ice in the 1,000m heats on Tuesday. It’s her best event – she won the recent European title over the distance and ranked No.1 in the world last season – but short track is a sport where having a mental edge is key.
“It’s going to be really tough for her now,” admitted coach Nicky Gooch, the last British skater to win an Olympic short track medal, two decades ago in Lillehammer.
“She’s in the shape of her life and she’s skating great but it seems there is a force working against her, it doesn’t matter what she’s doing, it’s just not going her way.
“She will find it hard to come back and she will feel a lot of pressure for the 1,000m. She wanted a result before that to take the pressure off.
“We need to try to keep her focused on the positives. She is skating well and is good enough to win. We’ll just have to see, who knows?”
British team officials did all they could to argue their cause but, after reviewing the video evidence, had to concede that Christie had made an error, her disappointment compounded by the fact she only needed to finish in the top three and her error was made in pursuit of winning the heat simply to secure a better draw for the next round.
“The referee said Elise didn’t cross the line,” added Gooch. “Where the finish line crosses the track, she crossed just inside that line. The judge ruled that she didn’t finish
“The top three qualified, she’d done nothing wrong and had skated perfectly. She tried to win the race because there is a benefit to that and the referee has called her finish off track.
“I’ve seen it called before but it doesn’t happen normally and I was really shocked, it’s totally rubbish to be honest. I’ve looked at the video and we’re talking milimetres here.
“To the very letter of the law it’s probably right but she’s clearly
qualified through that race but the rules say you can’t be inside the line and that’s it, nothing we can do.”
Christie was in no mood to reset her sights on the next challenge, wearing the expression of someone who thought the world was conspiring against her at exactly the wrong point.
“I don’t know what to say, I’m just confused,” she said. “It’s out of my control now, it’s happened and I need to get on with it. I’m looking forward to getting back out there for the 1,000m but it’s been a hard few days and I’m struggling to bounce back. I’m just going to try my best.
“I have had a few people threatening me on Twitter and it’s been a tough few days and I’m finding it quite hard. I don’t know what to say about the judges, I really want a reason to respect the ref’s decision. I was waiting to watch my team-mate race and I didn’t know whether I’d come first or second but I believed I’d qualified and skated a clean race.”
Lizzy Yarnold also shed some tears yesterday, though for very different reasons as she picked up her Olympic skeleton gold from Sir Craig Reedie, the Scottish sports administrator who sits on the International Olympic Committee’s executive board. Yarnold revealed her celebrations have been pretty muted so far, a slice of pizza, listening to The Archers and, improbably, writing track notes from her runs at the Sanki Sliding Centre – giving you a glimpse into the sort of drive required to be an Olympic champion.
“It’s slowly sinking in, I don’t think anyone can prepare for winning an Olympic gold medal, it’s just very special,” she said.
There were also tears of frustration for skier Chemmy Alcott, who called time on her Olympic career following a 23rd in the women’s super G. “The other day I had tears of happiness and now I have tears of frustration. It is amazing how quickly your expectations run away with you,” said Alcott, who has recovered from two broken legs in four years to make a fourth Olympic team.
Austrian skier Anna Fenninger romped to her first Olympics gold in the event in a time of one minute 25.52 seconds. Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany had to settle for silver, and Nicole Hosp of Austria the bronze.