Sochi heartache will ‘take toll’ on Elise Christie

Elise Christie is going for World gold as her coach, Nicky Gooch, below, tries to level her emotions
Elise Christie is going for World gold as her coach, Nicky Gooch, below, tries to level her emotions
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Short track speed skater Elise Christie travelled to Sochi at the end of January as a real medal hopeful for Team GB.

Instead, she became the focal point for all the wrong reasons as she suffered the heartbreak of two penalties and a disqualification in the 500 metres, 1000 metres and 1500 metres respectively.

Abusive messages on social networking site Twitter coupled with death threats followed ensuring it was a Winter Olympics to forget for the Livingston star.

But, as the 23-year-old, right, made efforts to distance herself from the intense scrutiny she encountered in Russia by returning to West Lothian and some traditional home comforts, Christie’s Team GB coach Nicky Gooch was left to ponder just how long the mental scars will take to heal.

“It was difficult to see, make no doubt about it,” Gooch, who won a bronze in the 500 metres short track event at the Lillehammer Games in 1994, explained. “I think she has found it more difficult since she came home. While we were out there she had a hard time, very disappointing. She was super strong and skating really well, so we tried to focus on the positives of what we could control and try and get it right for the next distance.

“If you are a footballer or a cricketer or something along those lines, you’re kind of used to it [publicity] almost on a weekly basis as they are in the public eye. For Elise, and us, it’s not normal to be in that situation where it generally is every four years. It’s so different for those athletes.”

Contemplating a return to the rink within a competitive environment is most likely to have been at the bottom of Christie’s to-do list these past few weeks – she could be forgiven given the circumstances. However, the former St Margaret’s Academy pupil can ill-afford to tread over old ground as she bids to become world champion in Montreal in Canada this weekend.

Gooch said: “Elise initially came home very determined about getting ready for the World Championships saying she wants to prove a point to everyone that she should have won medals, but as time has worn on, I think the amount of emotional energy used up at the Olympics ... it’s quite a normal phenomenon even if they win a gold medal where the athlete can sometimes suffer from post-Games blues where you come back to earth with a bit of a bump.

“She’s tough, though, and I think she will bounce back. I think that once she’s back in that competitive action again, she’ll be able to lift herself back up.

“The focus is yet again on trying to get our preparation right so we can perform to the best of our abilities in Montreal. You saw from the Olympics we are medal contenders, so it’s essentially just the same thing. We’ll be hoping to make the finals and be in the mix for medals.”

Gooch himself has had ample opportunity to reflect on Christie’s exploits where she suffered two penalties in both the 500 metres and 1000 metres races, the latter being her preferred distance. Further heartache ensued for the Scot when she was disqualified in the 1500 metres for apparently not “crossing the finishing line”, despite being ahead of the chasing pack.

Gooch added: “It’s easier to look in hindsight at these things, but from a tactical point of view, we made a couple of mistakes. Looking at what the referee has said and how it has been explained, I can see his point of view in some cases. Two people were involved in the incident, two people had to make their decisions in terms of what they are going to do on the ice like make an overtake and, in both scenarios (500m and 1000m), Elise was trying to stop someone from overtaking and they’ve said she initiated the collision.

“In both cases the referee said Elise was the one changing direction. We do see these calls all the time, but they often go either way. It’s very fine lines in terms of the differences of what is right and wrong, but it comes down to 50/50 calls.

“If you take ski cross for example, my understanding of that is very similar to short track but obviously on skis ... head to head racing and if people fall over or are knocked over then that’s the end of it.

“However, on the flip side, in short track if you are disadvantaged in some way then you can be advanced by the referee, so it’s just one of those things.