To mark the UN’s International Day of Friendship, we thought we’d celebrate some of our sport’s closest bonds. The day aims to confront the crises and challenges of the world (poverty, violence, human rights abuses) that undermine peace, security, development and social harmony. Friendship is the simplest way to overcome this, says the UN: by accumulating bonds, we can contribute to the shifts needed to achieve lasting stability, and a better, more united world.
Sandor Liu Shaolin and Shaoang Liu (HUN) celebrating in 2016©ISU
Shaoang Liu once told us about his relationship with his brother, Sandor Liu Shaolin. “We wake up together, we eat together, we go out together, we go to training together, we come to races together,”and he emphasised “When we skate, the first and the most important thing is to cover each other.”
It is important to have someone to count on but not everyone can have a close family member on the road with them, as they negotiate the tough life of a professional athlete – travel, training and racing. It therefore seems only natural that deep friendships develop in the world of Short Track.
Good friendships are based on mutual support. Elise Christie and Charlotte Gilmartin, of Great Britain, are a prime example. Gilmartin – herself a European Champion over 3000m in 2016 – has been a pillar of strength as multiple World Champion Christie quested to get an Olympic medal.
Elise Christie (GBR) Suzanne Schulting (NED) and Charlotte Gilmartin (GBR) in 2018©ISU
“Charlotte was the picker-upper,” said Christie of her struggles at Sochi 2014. “It was good because she was the person I was probably closest to, she knew me best and knew the sport at the same time. So she did help pick me up a lot. There have been many occasions when that has happened.”
Gilmartin says that the pair work well together. “Mine and Elise’s strengths are very opposite,” she claims. “I’m more of a tactical racer, leave everything to the last minute and go for a big move. Elise likes to be out in front, charging her way through. From a training point of view, that works well – me racing and pushing her to make moves.”
No words for these last 11 years with this lunatic. The person who taught me to overtake and be brave... my best friend off the ice and the first person in the heat box after I won any medals! I’ll never forget everything you did for me! And I’m really sorry we never got to celebrate an olympic medal together! So proud of everything you achieved and all the injuries you fought back from! Love ya 💜💜 p.s Alex charlotte and Elise 4evaaaa 😂
The two are so close that Christie was even a bridesmaid at 28-year-old Gilmartin’s wedding, and when the Scot suffered heartbreak at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games, her friend was there, as ever, to offer a shoulder to cry on. “It’s horrendous and I really feel for her,” Gilmartin says. With her friend’s support, Christie will hopefully continue her mission.
Elise Christie, Charlotte Gilmartin and Kathryn Thomson in Pyeongchang 2018 ©Jan Kruger/Getty Images
Alas, sometimes in the world of sport, best friends have to go head to head. Australian Short Track racers Pierre Boda and Andy Jung – close pals and training partners – knew that only one of them could get a place to race at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Getting it would mean eliminating the person they see daily at the Melbourne Icehouse, room with and travel with. Boda eventually took the slot – with Jung losing control while trying to overtake him, and crashing heavily into a wall.
“When we are overseas, we have roomed together every time, so he's probably the worst possible person for me to have to race against. I’ve had the thought in my head that I have to race against a good mate. It was really tough.” Boda said. “I was setting up for a pass and I was going to go for one either way. He just sort of came in. It is not an ideal way to qualify – especially since we are mates.”
But there were no hard feelings, and Jung proved that friendship can shine through under the most difficult circumstances. It’s what our sport is all about, after all. “It’s Short Track and anything can happen,” Jung said. “That's why the sport is exciting.”
Samuel Girard and Charles Hamelin (CAN) 2016©ISU
Samuel Girard has had to deal with being called ‘the next Charles Hamelin’ for a few years. Luckily, the man himself didn’t mind a fellow Quebecois coming for his position as Canada’s top skater: in fact, his support and friendship helped Girard immensely on the youngster’s route to Olympic gold in PyeongChang.
“Sam is a really good friend, I’ve been rooming with him the last two seasons and I’m not there to tell him do this or do that – I’m just there to give him examples,” says Hamelin. The veteran helped guide Girard through the treacherous process of qualifying for the Olympics, and acknowledges that part of his legacy in the sport is bringing through the next generation of talent. “I was able to bring him where he needed to be,” he says.
Samuel Girard and Charles Hamelin (CAN) 2016©ISU
Girard is enormously appreciative of his mentor. “This is the last Olympics for Charles. I wanted the gold medal for him,” Girard said after winning the men’s 1000m in PyeongChang. “I really wanted him to be on the podium too – but a race with nine skaters has a lot of passes and falls.
“I think the most important thing he showed me is you have to always be one hundred percent in everything you’re doing, be it training or recovery. He’s always giving one hundred percent in everything he is doing. That’s his best quality.”
That said, he’s determined to forge his own path. “I’m not the second Charles Hamelin,” says Girard. “I will be Samuel Girard, and this will be my career. But I want to follow what Charles did and it’s really inspiring to skate with him. He’s a superstar but he’s now more like a friend and a big brother for me.”