Charlotte Gilmartin: Crossroads ~ Passion/Patin/Vitesse - Passion/Speed/Skating


1 mai 2018

Charlotte Gilmartin: Crossroads

Any major event in the life of most athlete is normally followed by a transitional period made of question marks and a deep desire to flick off the switch. That’s in one of these periods that I’ve sat with Great-Britain’s Charlotte Gilmartin a few weeks ago at the end of a season that could have been her last. But will it?

By Carl Savard
Photos by Oscar van Den Bosch (@schaatsfotos), Martin Holtom, Stevie Coughlin and Charlotte Gilmartin's personnal collection.

Young Charlotte grew up in a family that wasn’t watching a lot of sports, because they were all occupied being active. She tried jiu-jitsu, football (soccer), and played a lot of street hockey, “I just played everything”  told me Gilmartin as we chatted in a seating area at the top of the grand staircase of the Hotel Universel in Montreal. Like many other Europeans, Charlotte Gilmartin’s skating career didn’t start with blades. It started on wheels. “I used to do roller hockey. At around 12, I went to a friend’s birthday party and there was skating. I had only been on the ice twice before that. I started racing around and challenging my friend on the ice. I got scouted by someone involved in speed skating who suggested that I should go to the club and have a try out and as soon as I tried it, I felt at home, it was awesome. I just loved the sport right away. I’ve always been super competitive and within two years I made the national team and the rest is history. ”

When she joined the national team, she was asked what were her goals and at the time the idea of fighting for a European championships title or even be an Olympic medallist was just not enough. She wanted to become world champion. At around 17, she started winning competitions on the Star Class circuit in Europe and thought success would keep showing up at the upper level.  “You just think inevitably you’ll be the best in the world and then you realise how hard it actually is.” She bursted into laughter while finishing her sentence. A laugh that fits her amazing smile and makes her someone pleasant to be around. “So by the time I got to 18, I started wondering if I would ever be good enough. I went to my first Olympics when I was 23 and it’s at that moment that I realised that I wanted to come back to the Games and do something with it, not just skate a quarterfinal. Unfortunately, Pyeongchang didn’t go as plan. After the Sochi games, I stayed injury free and was able to put myself forward on the World cup circuit and was really happy about the way training was going but this last season started with an injury in the first competition and got injured once again later during the season. I went to the Olympics knowing I wasn’t able to do enough to be ready but hoping it would be ok on race day. You try to convince yourself that you can still be confident  but it just didn’t work out. I was hoping that this year would be a good year, that I would stay injury free and really give the best I could and then maybe retire, but now that it didn’t go as plan, that it hasn’t been the best season ever and it’s been quite frustrating, I’m not decided yet whether I’m done or not.”

She was able to offer some great performances throughout her career, especially after 2014 when she started climbing in the top ten. During the 2015-16 season, she won a bronze medal on 1500m at World cup Shanghaï before being crowned vice-champion at the European championships. The following year, her performances made her get on the podium of the World cup events in Minsk and Dresden adding two international bronze medals to her collection. But as good as those results were, that is not what she had in mind over a decade ago when she joined the national team.

What's next?
At the beginning of an elite athlete’s career, the main focus is on training, competing, climbing the steps to reach greatness, but there will always comes a time in life where balance becomes a goal and personal life needs to be addressed. Now 28, the native of Redditch, a north-east district of Worcestershire, England, just got married. She knows that career-wise, there is more behind her than ahead and she already has an idea what she’d like to do afterward. “I think no matter what, I’ll stay in sport. I’d like to transition and go to cycling when I’ll retire. Not at a pro level but just so I keep racing. My partner, Ian Upcott, retired from short track and joined a local cycling club and there are similarities in tactics, getting around and being close to people. I think that’d be a cool thing to do once I’m done with skating. Racing for me is everything.” With that type of attitude, and the place she holds in the history of short track in Great-Britain, I could not resist to ask if coaching could be an option. “I’d like to help out for sure, whether it’s at the club level, the academy or the national team. There’s a big part of me that wants to give back. I got so much from this sport, I’d like to help other people be the best they can be. Other than that I’d probably go into something like firefighting and work with the community and give back in that sense too. That’s the avenues I’m looking at right now and I guess that could come at any time now.”

Charlotte Gilmartin is at a crossroads and her choice probably relies on one question: was 2017 a sign of decline or just a curve ball thrown by life to test her competitive spirit while climbing to reach her peak? I’d go for the latter because contrary to the Eric Clapton classic, I don’t believe she’s sinking down, but we’ll know in a few weeks what her heart tells her. That is where the answer lies.

UPDATE: Charlotte Gilmartin officialy announced her retirement of the competition on May 24th. "The time has come to hang up my racing skates... It has been the greatest journey I could of wished for in life. I have so many people to thank and I hope to individually get around to them all."

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