Lausanne, Switzerland

#OneHandDown                     #ShortTrackSkating

Three months ago, the mere thought of competing in a Short Track race was enough to make Elise Christie (GBR) question everything she’d spent the past 16 years working towards.

For Christie, an athlete who had achieved the pinnacle of her career just 18 months earlier when she claimed three golds – including the Overall title – at the 2017 ISU World Short Track Speed Skating Championships, it seemed as though her entire world was disintegrating.

“I went from the peak of my career, the best I’ve ever been, to having a complete disaster,” she reflects. “Everything that could have gone wrong this year, went wrong.”

Much of the sporting world is now familiar with the twists of fate that have befallen Christie at the Winter Olympics. Despite being among the gold medal favorites for all three of her races at PyeongChang 2018 – the 500m, 1000m and 1500m – she either crashed or incurred disqualification in every one, four years after her hopes of a medal in Sochi were dashed in similar circumstances.

 
 
 
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‘Sometimes your heart needs more time to accept what your brain already knows’ I’ve been asked many times why I wanted to skate with my ankle the way it was, I wasn’t ready to let go, the reality was that with my ankle the way it was me medalling was so unlikely, but my heart held onto that little bit of hope. And I wanted to inspire people never to give up. I’m sorry it didn’t end the way we all hoped and I’m thankful for every message of support and every person that’s taken time out to tell me I’ve inspired them. Thanks also to all@my fellow athletes that came up to say they respect me yesterday! Can’t thank them enough! Thank you @teamgb and @uk_sport 💜#pyeongchang2018 #teamgb #winterolympics #shorttrack #pyeongchang

A post shared by E l i s e C h r i s t i e 🤪 (@elisechristielikescake) on

In the process, Christie also aggravated an existing ankle injury, which she’s still recovering from nine months later. But while her Olympic misfortune alone would’ve been hard enough to come to terms with, Christie’s year has also featured family tragedy, and she has endured the sudden break-up of her three-year relationship with fellow skater Shaolin Sandor Liu (HUN).

WCSTSS Elise Christie (GBR)2017©International Skating Union (ISU) 856012722

Elise Christie (GBR) 2017©International Skating Union (ISU)

“It took me four months after the Games to get rid of the pain I was in at the end of PyeongChang,” she explains. “And at the same time, there were so many difficult things going on. My dad had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, my granddad is battling Alzheimer’s, and he’s in and out of consciousness, then I had some building work done at home and they ran away with my money. Then Shaolin and I went on holiday, got back and he broke up with me. So, for a long time, I didn’t think I could come back to this lifestyle again.”

As Christie began the long process of rehabilitating her ankle over the summer, she tried to balance her mental wellbeing with her desire to continue skating and compete at Beijing 2022 in search of that elusive Olympic medal. There were no easy answers.

“Short Track isn’t like a 100m run,” Christie says. “I stand on the start line and I know I’m basically the fastest 500m skater in the world, but you don’t stand there thinking, ‘I’m going to win here.’ Instead, you’re standing there, your heart’s racing, you’ve got all these doubts, and you don’t know what’s about to happen. And I was literally like, ‘Do I want to keep doing that to myself?’ That was the battle.”

Even when she returned to the ice in August, the future appeared bleak. Frustrated and still unable to do a single-leg dip, due to the amount of swelling on her ankle, Christie was on the verge of quitting. “I was in despair,” she says. “I was still mentally broken from the Olympics and everything, and within two laps of skating, my ankle had blown up. I (thought), ‘I can’t do this. I can’t come back. I’m done. I can’t fight this any more.’ Nick was the only one who helped me through that time, because I didn’t keep myself going at that point. That’s for sure.”

‘Nick’ is Nicky Gooch, Christie’s coach of 12 years. But it wasn’t long before even that element of her support network was gone: as a result of funding cuts, Gooch was made redundant a few weeks ago. “I obviously miss Nick a lot,” she says. “We’ve been working together for so long. He’s always been the one that’s believed in me.”

Due to a combination of her injury and psychological uncertainty regarding her future in the sport, she didn’t begin training seriously until mid-October. But after just three weeks of “giving her all” every day on the ice, she found herself flying off, albeit reluctantly, to the ISU Short Track World Cup in Calgary at the start of November.

“I’m not going to lie, I didn’t want to come but I kind of had to because the whole team was going, so there would’ve been no one for me to train with back home,” she says. “But when I first got to Calgary, I was like, ‘What am I doing? I don’t want to be here. I want to go home.’”

But rather than a traumatic experience, Christie soon found the experience of being immersed in the world of competitive skating again somewhat cathartic. She even competed in the Mixed Relay in both Calgary and Salt Lake City, at the subsequent World Cup event, but while the British team didn’t make it past the heats at either, she found her hunger for competition slowly returning.

“It was actually really good to race for the first time since PyeongChang and face the mental demons,” she says. “And it helped a lot to speak to other skaters from different countries. I had so many come up to me, and (say), ‘Please come back. We have so much respect for you,’ which was so nice to hear because you get in your bubble and you just think that everyone’s going to remember you for all the bad things, not the good things. But people actually remember you from when you were at your best. So that’s what I’m going to focus on now, I’m going to try and make more good moments.”

In particular, Christie found watching the new generation of skaters, with their zest for competition and displays of unrestrained joy at winning their first World Cup titles, extremely inspiring. She sat in the stands in Calgary, watching Natalia Maliszewska (POL) tussle with Fan Kexin (CHN) in the 500m semi-finals and, to her surprise, found herself yearning to be out there.

WCST US Prev Natalia Maliszewska(POL) 2018©International Skating Union(ISU) 1056985856

Natalia Maliszewska (POL)2018©International Skating Union (ISU)

“Natalia’s quite a fresh, young athlete and you can see the fight in her,” Christie says. “And I really enjoyed seeing that again. Sometimes when you’ve been doing something for ages, you take it for granted. You win World Cups and kind of stop caring about that, and it’s all focused on the Olympics.

“But you see this younger lot winning World Cup medals and being so happy. I couldn’t help thinking, ‘I need to appreciate this more when it happens to me.’ I was so hard on myself the last four years that I think I will enjoy any successes more in the future.”

Christie even tried to persuade her team to let her race the 500m in Salt Lake City but they were adamant she was not ready. Her return to individual action will have to wait until January’s European Championships in Dordrecht, Netherlands.

“I’m on a very tight leash at the moment,” she laughs, “partly because my ankle still isn’t perfect yet. I’ve not even got my new skates on yet because I can’t get my foot in them as it’s still swollen. It’ll be at least another six months before it completely heals. They also want to know that I’m consistently mentally good, not up and down from one session to the next. But I’d say I’ve now gone from 90% bad days and 10% good ones, a few months ago, to the other way round.”

WCSTSS Elise Christie (GBR)2018©International Skating Union 875697814 (2)

Elise Christie (GBR) 2017©International Skating Union (ISU)

Despite everything, Christie is back setting herself goals and even dreaming of World Championships medals again. As she watched Wu Dajing (CHN) set another 500m world record in Salt Lake City – the scene of Christie’s own world record set in 2016 – she joked that she’d have broken records too, had she been allowed out there.

“I feel I have got my hunger back now,” she says. “But most of all it’s just nice to know that I’m excited to race again. Because I didn’t think that was coming back.”

Follow Christie in the next up coming events. Check out the ISU Short Track Speed Skating calendar and you can follow the action by joining us on FacebookTwitterInstagram and YouTube