World champion Elise Christie beats the bullies
The journey from being the subject of online death threats to world champion has been one of enlightenment for Elise Christie. The 26-year-old originally from Livingston achieved that rarest of things at the weekend when she became a Scot at the very top of her global sporting field.
In itself, that would have been cause to reach for the Kleenex. Not least since Christie became the overall short track speed skating world champion in Rotterdam courtesy of golds in the 1000m and 1,500m, becoming the first Briton to do so.
Prior to the weekend, Christie’s career was in danger of being defined by the death threats she received on Twitter following her disqualifications from all three events she competed in at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. The level of abuse almost resulted in her quitting the sport and even now she struggles to comprehend the vitriol directed at her by mainly South Korean followers of the sport because of their belief that she was responsible for their favourite, Park Seung-Hi, crashing out during the 500m final.
Yet, how completely Christie has effected a transformation on and off the ice is supplied by the revelation of where she now finds her core support.
“I have probably got the biggest fanbase in Korea now,” she explains. “When I was in the test event [last month] for Pyeongchang [the South Korean venue for next year’s Winter Olympics], it was amazing because there were loads of them shouting for me and getting me to sign things. It was a really nice feeling. “
The nasty feelings she felt when she was sledged on social media in the aftermath of Sochi haven’t left her – it almost led to the one time figure skater switching to cycling – but ultimately might actually have helped make her psychologically stronger.
“I was really close to giving it all up,” Christie said. “Because I just didn’t really know how the sport could have impacted [on] my life so heavily. So to have turned it round, in just three years, is just incredible. I definitely thought about it [pursuing another sport], I just wasn’t ready to end an athletics career.
“It has been a shock really, how supportive everyone has been. I get so many nice messages. It is immense.
“I don’t think I would have kept going after Sochi at all if it wasn’t for the media and the public keeping me going. I still get the occasional person writing something really horrible, but now I know how to overlook it.
“You know that really it’s just one or two little gits sitting at home feeling sorry for themselves probably and taking it out on you. I write something funny and just ignore them. They wouldn’t say it to your face. “
Christie faced down her fears to reach the pinnacle in Rotterdam.
“Being world champion was really the main goal. It is actually harder than getting the Olympic title in one way because you have to be more consistent. To get the overall prize at the world championship you have to be good at all of them, while at the Olympics you just need to be good at one of the distances. That is why it was always my dream goal to get the world championships, so definitely I am now going into Pyeongchang looking to win gold medals.
“I probably spent about two years being terrified of failing after Sochi, because I was in a bronze medal position and I threw it all away to try to get a gold medal. It became about just trying to get medals, rather than trying to win. And this year I was kind of like ‘there’s no point in going out to get medals any more’. It was about trying to go out and win, taking risks, accepting failure in the process.
“I definitely want to try to come away as Olympic champion [next year] . I think physically and mentally I am in the place to do that. That would be the perfect way to get back at the bullies.”
l Elise Christie is a current Sky Sports Scholar. The Sky Academy Sports Scholarship scheme is now open for applications from sporting stars aged 16-25. Applications close at midnight on Sunday 26 March.