MY goodness, elite sport can be cruel. Four years to the day from Elise Christie being disqualified in the final of the short-track 500m at the 2014 Winter Olympics, she crashed out in the same final in Pyeongchang.
Lying in fourth place in the final lap she had her hand nudged by Dutch skater Yara Van Kerkhof and went flying into the barriers. Christie’s post-race interview was heartbreaking – she could not hold back the tears and admitted that, in that moment at least, she was unable to take any positives from the race.
The 27-year-old from Livingston was famously disqualified from all three of her events at the Sochi Olympics and having received death threats and a barrage of online bullying in the aftermath of those Games, she contemplated retirement.
But she came back stronger, becoming triple world champion in 2017 and reaching world number one.
As everyone knows, the margins in elite sport are incredibly fine but even more so in short-track speed skating, where a millimetre here or there can make or break an athlete’s championship.
And as Christie said in her post-race interview after crashing out yesterday: “This is short track and I am supposed to be prepared for this.”
But how can anyone ever prepare for their life’s hopes and dreams to be shattered? How can anyone ever fully prepare for the ultimate nightmare scenario? It is hard to overstate quite how much Christie will have put into these Games. And in the blink of eye, it was taken from under her.
Christie’s goal of an Olympic medal in the 500m may be over – for now at least – but two more opportunities remain, in the 1000m and the 1500m. And with the 1500m not beginning until Saturday, she has a few days to reset her mind and be ready to go again.
But the task of recalibrating to the extent Christie will need to is monumental. For the past four years following her Sochi agony, every single interview that Christie has done, almost without exception, she has been asked about her failure at the 2014 Games. Time and time again, she has had to relive that nightmare, and with each retelling, she is reinforcing to herself that she failed to fulfil her targets.
While Christie herself resisted the notion that she was headed to Pyeongchang looking for redemption, it is hard to believe that it had not crossed her mind that this fortnight was the perfect opportunity to exorcise her demons.
She still has time to win an Olympic medal, perhaps even two. But if she has even a shred of doubt in her mind, it will not happen. It would be forgivable for her to begin to feel that maybe she just doesn’t have it at the Olympics. That maybe it is just not to be when it comes to Olympic silverware.
She cannot allow these doubts to creep in though. You will hear elite athletes repeating ad nauseam that they are focusing purely on the process not the outcome. And that they are concentrating solely on controlling the controllables.
These sport psychology maxims may run the risk of sounding somewhat trite such is the regularity with which they are trotted out but they are the mottos that elite athletes must live their lives by. The minute an athlete stops focusing on the process and starts thinking about the outcome, they are a gonner. Thoughts of winning and losing are not only not helpful, they are actively detrimental. Winning is out of an athlete’s hands, only their own performances is within their control.
How well Christie manages to move on over the next few days will determine if she can skate to her best in the 1000m and the 1500m. Physically, she is good enough to win both but mentally, she must be fragile.
She has certainly matured since Sochi 2014 but the next few days will make or break her.
If Christie can comeback to win a medal – maybe even gold – over the next few days, it will be remarkable. And if she manages it, there will be few athletes in the world who deserve the plaudits more than her.