It’s been a tough Winter Olympics for Scottish Team GB speed skater Elise Christie. Heading into a winter games for the first time, she was tipped to be a great success in the medals for Britain, and aimed to take away titles in the 500m, 1000m and 1500m disciplines of speed skating. However, no one could have predicted the disastrous games that were to come.
Her first incident was in the 500m short-track skating where she crossed the line in second, only to be penalised after the race for being adjudged to have brought down two fellow skaters during the race. It meant she was given an automatic eighth place and thus didn’t walk away with the silver medal she thought she had won. Despite the controversial circumstances surrounding the incident, Christie accepted it would be a tight decision from the referee: “I knew it was going to be a 50-50 call. When I was in the race I thought I was in front, I thought it was more going to go my way than not, but obviously it didn’t and that’s that.”
She aimed then for her next event, the 1500m. In the semi-finals, Christie produced a good performance to see her cross the line in a photo finish with Italian skater Arianna Fontana, one of the two who fell in Christie’s 500m race. However, rather than revealing whether she finished in first or second place, the photo finish revealed to the adjudicators that Christie had technically not crossed the line, with her skate being 1.5cm outside the technical finish line, and was therefore handed a DNF. It was here a visibly distraught Elise told reporters of the heartbreak of being disqualified from her second race in three days, and that she was finding it tough to prepare for her best event of the 1000m: “I’m really looking forward to getting out there for the 1,000m but I’m struggling now to bounce back”. She also told of the abuse she had received on Twitter from South Koreans angry at her for damaging the race of Park Seung-hi, the other faller in the 500m short-track race; “I have had a few people threatening me – it’s been a tough few days. I’m finding it quite hard.”
And so Christie’s hopes were pinned solely on her best event, the 1000m short-track skate. Once again in the semi finals, she produced a charge late on in the race to battle for second and qualification into the finals. It was here, on the final lap, that she was involved in an incident with China’s Jianrou Li resulting in the pair crashing out of the race. In remarkable scenes, both skaters were handed penalties after the race which meant that Christie’s medal hopes were over. “Never in 100 years did I expect a penalty. I’m confused and heartbroken,” she told reporters following her latest disqualification. “I knew you needed a lot [of mental strength], but I didn’t know it would need this much.”
Commentators, pundits and fans alike were staggered at the third decision where it appeared that China’s Li had taken out Christie. Before commenting on this, I must say that I feel an enormous amount of sympathy for Elise who has had a torturous week considering the amount of effort that must be put in by any athlete to reach an Olympic Games – and bullying on social media is something no one should suffer on social media at anytime, let alone during competition. However, I find myself increasingly distant from the rest of the population with regard to my opinion on these decisions. I do feel the decision to award Christie with a penalty in the 1000m was incredibly harsh, but I do not blame the referee for making it.
The problem I have with finding injustice in the decision is that this was the third incident within a week that Christie was involved with. The tactic she uses of a late charge through the field will always see her battling for places, and in battles with other competitors for track position in order to achieve the best racing line for the finish. This is a big risk in a sport like speed skating where contact isn’t allowed. Yes, the referees’ consistency across these games can be questioned, but it’s hard for me to find sympathy for Christie if these are the rules outlined clearly. Why give the referee the choice of being able to disqualify you if it can be avoided?
I feel the same way in regards to the decision to disqualify her from the 1500m race. If the rules dictate that you should be finishing inside the finish line, why give the referee the decision to make by pushing out wide, no matter how small the margin was? The rules are the rules, and whilst you can argue it would have been common sense for the referees to allow her to progress anyway, surely it should be common sense for the athlete to stop giving the referees controversial decisions to make? It’s similar to football with regards to diving – yes, a player might have gone down easily over your trailing leg, but why stick a leg out whimsically that a player can trip over, causing the referee to make a split decision?
However, like any great athlete, Elise Christie is already planning to put Sochi behind her and go for gold once more in the future: “I will come back in four years and try again though – you can be sure of that.” For that Elise, I commend you, and wish you all the best in your future games, of which I am sure you can succeed in.