No-one could begrudge Elise Christie for asking ‘why always me?’ Another Olympic final. Another medal chance slipped away. And yet more tears.
Racing around in circles on blades just one millimetre thick, short track speed skating is always going to be risky business. It’s what makes the sport such a thrilling spectacle.
But Livingston-born Christie must be starting to think the sport’s gods are conspiring against her, desperate not to see an Olympic medal of any colour hung around her neck.
Four years ago in Sochi, it was a disqualification and two falls which cost her. At the Gangneung Ice Arena yesterday, the unwanted feeling of smashing into the hard ice was back for the Scot as she crashed out on the last lap of the 500m final.
“I was knocked over – I didn’t fall on my own,” she said.
“It’s just tough. I worked so hard. It has been taken away from me. Right now, I can’t see living with this feeling. It is short track and I’m supposed to be prepared for this but it hurts.”
While not her favoured event – the 1000m comes later in the Games – Christie had looked in medal-winning form in the sprint event, setting two Olympic records en route to the final.
Canadian Marianne St-Gelais, silver medallist in 2010 and at last year’s World Championships, had been removed from Christie’ path to glory after being penalised in the quarter-finals.
But in the medal race, Christie had extra company. St-Gelais’ team-mate Kim Boutin was advanced from her semi-final, leaving things as a five-woman dash for the line.
Given a wide draw after finishing second in her semi, Christie was fourth at the first corner and then spent the next few laps waiting patiently to make her move on the final lap.
When it came, though, so – it appeared – did the skate of Dutch skater Yara van Kerkhof, who knocked Christie off her stride and careering into the wall once again – memories of Sochi 2014 coming flooding back.
The physical blow was compounded by the fact that South Korean skater Choi Min-jeong was then disqualified – much to the dismay of the vocal home crowd – which would have meant a medal for Christie had she stayed on her feet.
Gold went to Italy’s Arianna Fontana with Van Kerkhof taking silver and Boutin promoted to bronze.
“I ended up with fourth place and that’s pretty tough to deal with right now,” said Christie.
“So many little things conspired against me. I got bumped in my semi-final and, because it wasn’t that quick, I started from lane four. I’m not the fastest starter, so I knew the likelihood of winning gold was pretty slim at that point. The race shifted around and then I thought that I could win the thing. I got caught and that just sucks. I tried my best to hold the corner but we’re going quite fast on these tiny blades.
“When I went down I knew it was over because I knew they would only penalise one person. Normally, there’s only four people in a final too, so if you get knocked over by someone you still get a medal by the end of it too.”
According to short track speed skating team leader Stewart Laing, the plan was for Christie to be back on the ice training today. Her Games are, of course, not over and preparations need to be made for the 1000m and 1500m, with the latter this weekend.
Given the events of Tuesday evening, few would begrudge the Brit if she wanted to wallow in self-pity and stay away.
But Christie is made of stern stuff. She responded to her Sochi disappointment by claiming 11 of her 12 global medals during the last Olympic cycle, including the three world titles.
The latter included gold in the 1000m and 1500m – a small crumb of comfort for Christie as she looks to pick herself up off the icy floor in her remaining events.
She will also be supported closely by those around her, including close friend and team-mate Charlotte Gilmartin, boyfriend Shaolin Liu, a Hungarian skater, and the Team GB support staff.
And Laing was adamant that while results at these Games might look all too familiar so far, Christie has the ability not to let her Games be derailed.
“Unfortunately, she finishes in that soul-destroying fourth place,” said Laing. “We have brought our sports psychologist out and we have had this planned just in case. We will regroup and refocus. We will give her time to digest but then help her cope with what’s happened.
“Crucially, Elise is in a much stronger place. She is far more robust than last time. She has actually finished the race so it’s different to Sochi.
“Obviously none of us wanted it to be written this way but we come back on Saturday.
“We look at her and she has speed and she has talent. You have to give it everything. The 1500m and 1000m are her favourite events so will will sit down and focus on them.”
• Watch Elise is action next on Eurosport 1 at 10am this Saturday. Don’t miss a moment of the Olympic Winter Games on Eurosport and Eurosport Player. Go to www.eurosport.co.uk