Christie’s redemption dream comes crashing down; now, for the rebuild

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ESPN – GANGNEUNG, South Korea — Redemption will have to wait. For now, there is just devastation. As Elise Christie did a solo lap assessing her fourth-place finish having crashed out in the final of the 500-meter short-track speedskating, her arms fell to her knees, back hunched, momentarily wiping away tears.

“I’ve worked so hard for that moment out there and I got knocked over,” Christie said afterwards. “It’s so out of my control but almost that feels worse — at least I can go home and think I didn’t make any mistakes but it still sucks.” Going home, in this case, is back to the Olympic Village, she still has two further shots at the medal she so covets having suffered further sporting heartbreak in Sochi in the lottery that is short-track speed skating.

GANGNEUNG, South Korea — Redemption will have to wait. For now, there is just devastation. As Elise Christie did a solo lap assessing her fourth-place finish having crashed out in the final of the 500-meter short-track speedskating, her arms fell to her knees, back hunched, momentarily wiping away tears.

“I’ve worked so hard for that moment out there and I got knocked over,” Christie said afterwards. “It’s so out of my control but almost that feels worse — at least I can go home and think I didn’t make any mistakes but it still sucks.” Going home, in this case, is back to the Olympic Village, she still has two further shots at the medal she so covets having suffered further sporting heartbreak in Sochi in the lottery that is short-track speed skating.

As she lined up for the final, Christie was the only one of the five finalists not to break out into a beaming smile as she was introduced to the crowd; it was more a reluctant recognition. She started awkwardly, shunned to the back of the pack, but charged into medal contention with two laps to go only to then crash out. The cruel irony later was had she finished fourth in the race proper, then she would have won bronze as Choi was disqualified. Instead, because she completed her lone finish, she has fourth against her name.

Seeing her afterward, you could feel nothing but sympathy. As she wiped away tears with a crumpled tissue, millions of thoughts running through her head, she picked through the bones of the race. She knew the likelihood of gold was slim, having ended up in lane four as she is not — in her own words — the fastest starter. But as Choi and eventual bronze medal-winner Kim Boutin bumped, she made her move into second only to then get hit. Then came brutal inevitability.

“I tried my best to hold the corner but we’re going quite fast on these tiny blades and you can’t always hold it and when I went down I knew it was over because I knew they would only penalise one person.”

Performance director Laing talked calmly as he assessed the race he had just witnessed. He said such is the 360-degree nature of their planning, this was one eventuality they had already catered for. “We got through the fact that we could come here and have three penalties or we could have three medals. That’s the spectrum we’re working across.”

“It’s not always going to be the fairy-tale,” Laing added. “It’s not like we’re completely unprepared for this. What I would say is this isn’t a re-run of Sochi. It’s not a penalty. She came fourth. She unfortunately didn’t finish the race on her feet but you saw in previous races that is what can happen in this sport.”

Gold medallist Arianna Fontana expects Christie to use this as motivation, summing the sport up succinctly: “This is short track, it’s part of the game.”

Christie will wake in the Olympic Village on Wednesday and go training. “Elise is an adult; we don’t sit her down, we work with her,” Laing said. Christie’s best events are yet to come, and this will be parked, as best she can, with attention turning to Saturday for the 1,500 and then the 1,000.

“I’ve got almost a week for my main event, the 1,000, to turn this around now, but obviously it just sucks,” Christie said. For now, those close will rally around, but with two events to go, hope remains, and positivity will return. Then Christie will attempt again to banish those demons of Olympic heartbreak.