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10 juin 2018

Elise Christie: boxing her way to the top


Even though her history with Olympics has been difficult so far, it’s definitely not because of a lack of hard work. In the last eight years, Elise Christie has fought her way to the top and while some casual-fans and media seem to focus on the fact that she has yet to dominate at the Olympics, aficionados enjoyed seeing her become World champion in 2017. Something no other European women has ever done in the 42 years of existence of the championships.

By Carl Savard
Photos by Carl Savard, Martin Holtom, Oscar van den Bosch and Elise Christie's personnal collection

Getting in the ring
December 2016, my partner Jackob and I came with the idea of creating Passion/Speed/Skating. While the project started on Facebook and Instagram, I began working on the website. Doing so, I tried different configurations and needed a false article to see how it would look once we start publishing. I only needed a title and a picture and decided it would be a picture of Great Britain’s Elise Christie with the title being “Elise Christie is your new world champion!” That was three months before she actually became world champion, but based on the performances she had offered at the beginning of the 2016-2017 season, I was confident it would materialize. That’s in the the first few minutes of our meeting last March, while she was in Montreal to cheer for her Brit teammates and her Hungarian boyfriend competing at the World championships, that I brought up this anecdote to Elise.  “Well thank you, that’s so nice. I think you were more confident than me! That season just felt like everything went right.” Timing. That’s how great things happen sometimes in sport. You’re at the top of your game and nothing out of your control comes to make you stumble. Pretty much totally the opposite of the 2017-18 season that saw her battling with injuries with a major one happening in Pyeongchang during the Olympics. “I really think I was stronger this year. In training, I was skating faster than the previous season but I had difficulties finding the right set up and I had a lot of injuries. I wasn't really able to race all season long. I was just hanging on. I understand that going in the Olympics I was seen as a probable gold medalist, but I was nowhere near where I should have been.” As much as I wanted to go back in time and talk about when did short track entered her life to build one of my classic portrait, I had to clear the subject and talk about Pyeongchang and how hard she tried skating following her painful injury.  “After my injury, I was warned about the risks of doing it. My ankle was double the size of normal and when I did the warm up that day, after 48 hours of doing nothing at all, I was getting dropped by Charlotte and Kat who are great skaters but normally it’s the other way around. I started thinking ‘Is there any point in going on with this’? Then I thought adrenaline might overcome all this and it did on the first start actually but after the fall it was bad. Still, I thought ‘How many kids at home are watching me right now’ and I really wanted to turn it around for Britain because for years and years there hadn’t been a lot of hope for Britain in short track and I really wanted to change that. I know I’m ruthless and robust and I know I can deal with pain so I went back to the start. It just didn’t end the way I was hoping.”



Christie came back home after the Olympics with a ruptured ligament, a partially torn one and a partially ruptured tendon that needed a few months of rehab. At the time of publishing this article, she was just back on the ice after three and half months off. 















The first few rounds
Even though she is 27 years old, the blonde Brit doesn’t have that much experience as a short track skater. She started short track at around 13 years old doing it once a month as a distraction from her main sport that was figure skating. At around 16 years old, the age where most athletes will decide if they want to eventually pursue a career in their sport, she actually quit both figure skating and short track to put all her efforts in school, something that has always been important to her family. “I didn’t come from a family of sports, I grew up in a family of well educated people I would say. I’ve never been someone that dreams of the Olympics. I just did sports because I was competitive and enjoyed it but it was always about what job I was going to have and what school I was going to go to. But then my mom convinced me to at least continue for a year. She didn’t want me to realize later that I had missed an opportunity. I just kind of went through the motion of doing the sport. I had a pretty natural technique and I started training more and more and training harder and then I skated on the World cup circuit and ended up qualifying for the Vancouver games and thought ‘That’s pretty cool!’ It’s only after going to the Olympics the first time that I realised I wanted to pursue my career in short track. That year, I did my first main final at the World championships and I did it by going at the front and boxing everyone of them out and from that point on I was like ‘This is it, I’m gonna make them beat me now’. I was done with being boxed around and having people think I was a walk over.”



Getting the belt
From the Vancouver Olympic games to the Pyeongchang games, Elise Christie won 37 medals on the World cup circuit including 15 gold ones. She also won 17 European Championships medals including being crowned overall European champion twice and even though she doesn’t have an olympic medal yet, she won 12 World championships medals including winning the title of overall World champion in 2017. She also is the 500m world record holder at this moment. When I told her I felt like something had changed in the way she was skating in 2017 when she became world champion, her explanation made complete sense. “I came from this background that we (Great-Britain) didn’t win and after the Sochi Olympic games I developed this major fear of failing. I just became so scared of what everyone was saying about me that everytime I ended up in a position to win a silver or bronze medal, I stayed there because it was safe. In 2016 when I came back from from the World championships in Seoul, Shaolin actually told me off that year saying ‘Why the heck did you just sit in second place???’ He was so frustrated because he knows how hard I work. I train really hard. That summer was tough, I felt drained and when I got back with the team I told the staff and coaches ‘I don’t care that the Olympics are in two years right now. From now on, I try to win it all. What winning another silver or bronze World championships medal is going to bring me? It’s not gaining me anything.' I had decided that year was going to be fail or win instead of playing safe by fear of failing and it worked.” That’s how Elise Christie became world champion.

The next fight
At 27, Elise Christie isn’t ready to stop. “I’m at that point now where I know I’m not ready to stop doing sport, I’m still very competitive and obviously there is a feeling of unfinished business for me. I will get back on the ice and I want to be at the World championships next season but I would like to try long track also. I’ve been criticize a lot and sometimes I feel like I can’t go back to the Olympics and have the same thing happen again but I still love it. I will definitely take a different angle now and make sure that if I carry on until the Olympics in four years, I’m gonna make sure that I’m at the right place physically and mentally so it’s gonna be a build up into that. I’m not going to try to smash it every year now because I’ve been doing that for 8 years. I’m gonna make sure I’m in the best place.”

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