Elise Christie vows to carry on after winter of discontent

Elise Christie falls during her 1,000m short track speed skating heat. Picture: AFP/Getty
Elise Christie falls during her 1,000m short track speed skating heat. Picture: AFP/Getty
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The good news, if that is how to phrase it, is Elise 
Christie is not done with the Winter Olympics. Despite the torment that this great sporting pageant has visited upon her, she cannot let it end like this, in pain, anguish and 
disappointment.

Five successive failures across two Winter games lurched inexorably into a sixth here, another miserable chapter in a story of unrelenting failure. She could not have done more to turn it around. In the end it was not the 
damaged ankle that spiked her but the short track speed 
skating judiciary, who threw her out for encroaching, not once, but twice.

And this after she had limped back to the start line following the worst start imaginable. Yes, you guessed it, a trauma straight off the bat, tripped in the dash for the first corner and bundled into the barrier, her face folding tearfully into the now familiar lines of despair.

Her race looked done. Attempts to put weight on her ankle saw her double in pain. Noting her discomfort the referee allowed her a minute to regain her composure. This she did, gliding gingerly back to the line, but with no sense that she was fit to continue. Astonishingly, continue she did.

At the restart her rivals left her glued to the line, and when she finally engaged forward motion she might have been pulling a tractor. It took her a whole lap to make up the ground, and thereafter she was engaged in a dogfight.

Once immersed, you would not have known that she left the same arena in an ambulance three days previously. She could barely lace her boot such was the searing discomfort. But at this point Christie was no longer racing for herself but for the army of followers, friends and family drawn to her gutsy response to adversity.

Though to the naked eye any contact she made with her rivals as she slashed her way through to second place looked like the standard argy bargy that defines this gladiatorial ding dong, the judges thought differently, giving her the maximum double penalty otherwise known as a yellow card.

Privately it must have hurt them to treat her so. There was hardly a voice in the house that was not behind her. The same Korean public that had trolled her four years ago in Sochi were positively blowing her over the ice, the volume rising whenever she hit the turbo. They, like her, thought she had qualified. But that was not her destiny.

“It’s been such a tough two days. I gave it my best shot and obviously had a crash at the start. I hit my ankle and at that point I thought ‘oh no, that’s over, I’m not going to be able to race now’. I can’t describe the pain I was in,” she said.

“But then I was given a minute to stand there. It sounds weird but I was thinking about everyone back home watching and I just felt that I deserved to give it a go for them. I know how many people have tuned in to see that and I thought I’m going to give it my best shot. I’ll go off a bit slower, I’ll catch up and I’ll just qualify and I did that.”

While some might consider strategic, technical or mental shortcomings as contributory factors in six successive failures across two Winter games, Christie and the Team GB hierarchy were left clinging to the lifeboat that it was rank misfortune and nothing else.

The deeper interrogation of the speed skating performance in Pyeongchang, a discipline that was tasked with winning up to two medals, will come in the weeks ahead. In the immediacy of this latest calamity, Christie wanted the message, if not the outcome, to be positive.

“I fought through the race,” she said. “I don’t know what the yellow card was for. When I was in the race I felt like it was a normal race and I moved up. I qualified and I was so happy. I had so many messages and some of them have made me quite emotional.

“All the kids that have used Twitter to contact me, they’ve told me I’m their inspiration, their hero. And I just thought I’ve done it for you guys. I can’t thank Britain enough for all the support and I gave it my best shot. That’s why I’ll be back in Beijing. I wanted to try another sport but I’ll commit to this one a bit longer.

“It means more than a medal that people can see how hard I tried. I can’t thank them enough. The support from the UK is insane and the people sticking up for me on social media. It’s incredible. I was bullied as a kid and no one had my back and now everyone has my back.”