Cool Christie turns up Seoul heat to banish Sochi blues
Olympic pain still haunts flying Scot but renewed confidence and self-belief propel her back to podium
THE fact that Elise Christie returned home from last weekend’s Short Track Speed Skating World Championships in Seoul, Korea with three medals in her pocket and yet still had a sense of disappointment hanging over her says a lot about the 25-year-old from Livingston.
Silver in the 1000m and bronze in the 1500m, as well as third place in the overall standings, may be a pretty decent return, but for Christie, failing to claim a world champion’s title still irks her somewhat. “I’m pretty happy and I’m really pleased to get on the podium overall because that’s the first time I’ve achieved that,” she says. “But the competition didn’t go 100 per cent to plan so I’m coming away with mixed emotions.”
The difference between the top step of the podium and second or third place is minimal at the top level of any sport but in speed skating, an almost imperceptible error can be hugely costly.
“In the 500m, which is my best event, I was really hoping to become world champion, but I got knocked out in the quarter-finals because I made a stupid mistake,” Christie explains. “One of the girls came from behind me but I didn’t see her and I bumped her by mistake – I lost all of my speed and ended up getting knocked out. It was a really silly error.”
Similarly, in the 1500m and 1000m, a combination of bad luck and slight misjudgments cost Christie the gold medals but the Scot can see the positives in still managing to claim two medals despite the errors.
“The fact that I got silver and bronze but still have room for improvement gives me a lot of self-belief and it makes me think that if I can get the preparation a bit better and not make any mistakes then hopefully I can become world champion,” she says. “This is the first time I’d been in a winning position at the Worlds so to get it right first time would have been pretty tough. I think it’s important for me that I’ve now been in that winning position at the World Championships. So it’s definitely a big step forward.”
Christie knows more than most how severely punished one can be by the tiniest of mistakes on the ice. Two years ago, she went into the Sochi Winter Olympics with the hope of fulfilling her dream of becoming Olympic champion but it ended in disaster after being disqualified from all three events.
Christie was understandably heartbroken and suffered deep psychological cuts from that Olympic disappointment and she admits that her experiences over recent seasons have changed her.
“I think I have changed as a person over the last few years,” she says. “My emotions used to be really up and down but I think that all the tough experiences I’ve had to deal with have taught me not to take things too seriously because it’s just sport. That’s hard because it’s your whole life but I’ve definitely developed and I don’t get as affected by things now because really, what can ever be as bad as what happened at the Olympics?”
Christie returned home from Sochi in 2014 with a severe dent in her confidence and it has taken until this season for that confidence to be rebuilt. This season though, she has proved her class, winning three gold medals at the European Championships in January, as well as numerous World Cup titles before the culmination of her season at last weekend’s World Championships. If any criticism can be levelled at Christie though, it is that she is too modest about her impressive achievements and she admits that keeping her confidence high can be something of an internal battle.
“I’m quite a pessimistic person and I do find the self-belief part quite difficult,” she says. “A few years ago when I became World Cup champion, I remember being really confident but I lost a lot of that after the Olympics. I think I had a real fear of failure – the thought that I might never win an Olympic medal overshadowed everything and my confidence took a real knock. This year is the first time I really got it back and so I’m really going to try to race with more self-belief because it definitely helps me.”
Christie may have had her best season ever but in no way is she taking her foot off the gas. After a couple of weeks break, she will be back into training and will begin next season again with the aim of becoming world champion.
With her renewed sense of confidence, along with another year’s experience in the bank, it will take a brave man to bet against her.
SPEED MERCHANT: Elise Christie leads the field at the Short Track Speed Skating World Championships.