The nation received its first and only Olympic speed skating medal to date in Lillehammer in 1994: a bronze for Nicky Gooch in the men’s 500m. British speed skating has a new leading lady in the form of Elise Christie. After a innovative start to the 2012-13 International Skating Union Short Track Speed Skating World Cup, the 22-year-old Scot has become world No. 1 at 1,000m.
Christie finished second in the season opener in Calgary behind South Korean Soyoun Lee before turning in another silver medal performance in Montreal just six days later. The two showings combined have left the Livingston native top of the 1,000m World Cup standings ahead of Canada’s Valerie Maltais.
The news that Britain now has a leading female speed skater may be uplifting for a nation. It was in fact equally unexpected for Christie herself. “It was a surprise,” she tells The Positive. “I had just been getting on with skating and actually had just fallen in my other event, 500m, so it came out of the blue when my coach told me.”
In 2010, at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Christie competed in the 500m, 1000m and 1500m, finishing in 11th, 20th and 19th places respectively. The results were admirably reputable for the young skater, however she initially perceived this as the limit of her potential.
“After Vancouver I felt like that was it, that was all I would ever get from skating, however then I started to think about what could happen if I kept working on all those one percents where I could improve,” she says.“I changed my mindset. I changed my training and I also changed my lifestyle.”
The life of a world-class speedskater may demand significant sacrifices at a young age and unlike more mainstream sports, fame and fortune may be far from motivating factors. There were moments, Christie explains, when she was close to giving up. “Your whole body aches and back pain can be a real challenge. However you just keep working hard on and off the ice because you believe you can achieve something.”
Christie may be a role model for a new generation as the sport continues to raise its profile.“These days, UK Sport do a great job with funding and the young skaters in the Great Britain team are now paid enough to live,” she says. “The main challenge is just that the sport still needs recognition in this country.”Christie, however, sees a new trend on the horizon: “there are a lot more young kids on the ice. There is more money coming into skating which provides better coaching and development.”
While World Cup glory is important, her primary goal is a historic medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, a result that might surely force the British public to sit up and take notice of speed skating.“Everything is building for the Olympics,” she admits. “I see these medals in the World Cup as bonuses, all I’m focusing on is building on my strengths so I can aim for a medal in Sochi.”
The next and final events on the World Cup trail are races in Sochi on 3rd February 2013 and Dresden, Germany on 9th February.