Speed skater Elise Christie talks openly about the heartbreak of the Sochi Winter Olympics and her hopes to finally complete her difficult journey with Olympic gold.
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This is Elise Christie.
She's the best short track speed skater the UK has ever produced.
Open out a little bit.
She's a world record holder, she's a triple world champion,
and she's Great Britain's best hope for a gold medal
at the upcoming Winter Olympics.
Elise is a very special athlete,
but four years ago, she nearly walked away
from the sport she loves.
Oh, they've gone down! They've all come down, in fact!
I went for the win, and that's just the way it went, unfortunately.
One of the favourites for gold in Sochi,
the Olympics she worked so hard for ended in disqualifications,
disappointment and death threats.
I've had quite a lot of abuse over the internet and stuff,
that I've had to deal with. That's been tough, as well.
Yes, so, I'm finding it quite hard.
Hers is a remarkable story of courage, of not giving up
in the most difficult circumstances,
and, of redemption.
Seoul. South Korea's capital and home to almost 10 million people.
It's a city that's always busy, always on the move
and obsessed with speed.
And just 80 miles to the east lies the quiet ski resort of PyeongChang,
the venue for the 23rd Winter Olympics.
With the Games fast approaching, I travelled to Seoul
with the British Short track team for an important training camp.
So, the goal today on the ice is that, obviously,
it's supposed to be a low-intensity session,
it's the first session on the ice, obviously.
So, our goal is just to focus on our basic game position,
get ourselves into position,
get comfortable, get our coordination back.
Why have you decided to come here? Why is it so important?
We've come over here the exact amount of days before
that we're going to come out for the Games.
We're practising our exact run-up to the games
so, training on the rink that we're going to train at,
staying at the hotel we're going to stay at,
and almost just going through every single process
that we are going to put in place for the Games,
just to iron out any bugs, really.
I suppose, for athletes, as well,
you want them to be used to things, as well,
because they're finely tuned machines, aren't they?
-They're creatures of habit.
And our guys aren't great at change either.
If you think about it, we're going to come out at the end of January
for the whole month of February,
and do high-rise living in hotel blocks.
So, it's really important for us
to be able to identify those places outside
that we can just go and relax,
and just escape the bubble.
-Oh, Stewart, you win.
We're monitoring jet lag with it.
Just checking strength each day
to see if your jet lag's improving or not.
I just went up by ten,
so in ten minutes...
So, in ten minutes, my jet lag has stormed out of the building.
-That's how it works.
Well, Elise, we're here in Korea. What's it like to be here?,
It's good. It's exciting.
Obviously, it's a bit warmer than it is at home which we all quite like.
But, yeah, it's good to get out and try
and practise getting adjusted to the time zone for the Games.
And we really like the rink we're training at
and the fact that it's really cold.
So, everything is really good out here.
And this was all about preparation, isn't it, for PyeongChang?
Yeah, so, we're like practising the strategy we would use for the Games,
coming out a bit earlier,
you know, getting on the same rink we would hopefully be training on
for the Games and we are just getting
as much into a routine as we can.
South Korea has won more Olympic short track medals
than any other country.
So, it's an ideal destination.
And not just for the training.
A little bit of kimchi.
And that's it.
It's a country, though, that you've spent a lot of time in, isn't it?
Tell us about your relationship with the country, I suppose?
I've been here, like, quite a lot.
I know a lot of the culture and, I can't speak much,
but I can understand a bit of Korean and stuff like that.
So, it's definitely one of my favourite cities in the world,
so there's so much to do, it's so lively.
It's so different to Britain
and sometimes it's nice to have a contrast like that.
But I don't know if I could live here all the time,
just because, they are so busy all the time,
and I just feel like Britain's got that nice laid-backness about it.
We can go to sleep at night,
and there's not everyone buzzing still outside.
But it's nice to come on a trip here and see it all
and be a part of the action for a bit.
Do you get people recognising you in the street ever,
because you're the World Champion?
Yeah, it's happened a couple of times since I've been here already.
But I think it's easy here, because, you know,
I'm blonde and it's not normal thing to see in Korea.
It's quite nice, people are always really sweet and friendly,
and I always like to say hello to everyone who wants to say hello.
So, it is weird.
It's not something I ever expected, but it is nice at the same time.
You've not always been a famous speed skater.
Just tell us how it all began for you.
So, I started as a figure skater
when I was really young, like seven.
And then, I transferred over, because I kind of...
We did a race the week after I started and, obviously,
it was just a fun race,
so I won a Selection Box of chocolate for winning that race,
so, after that, your heart's kind of set on short track.
So, yeah, I switched over to short track
and did it full-time from 15 or 16.
So, basically, it was a love of chocolate that got you into it?
Yeah, definitely, once they've given out Selection Boxes,
that's your heart set on it, isn't it? From that point.
She was one of those kids,
you could show her something and she picked up immediately.
She just seemed to have the natural ability,
probably from her figure-skating background,
she knew how to control her blades.
After a few weeks,
one of the coaches from the running club asked if she'd like to join,
because they saw a lot of potential as a runner there, as well.
But her heart was in speed skating.
The choice between the two, I think,
came because she had become British Champion,
for sure, and got offered a place,
and her dream was to go to the Olympic Games.
So, because she was offered a funded place, she took it.
I think it gives her the thrills that she wants,
the close racing with other girls.
In fact, with guys, as well!
She's pretty competitive.
But to go further in the sport, Elise had to leave home
in Livingston to train with the Great Britain squad.
For the last 12 years, she's lived in Nottingham.
Would you describe yourself as a morning person?
No, I'm definitely an evening person. I hate the morning.
When she moved away from home at 15, it was really difficult.
I'm not going to lie. As a parent,
it's very difficult to let your child go at that age.
Especially, possibly, a girl, if I'm being honest.
There's days when I have regretted it, because I miss her,
and, obviously, she's always a long distance away,
but the fact that she's very good at keeping in contact has helped.
A lot of drinking to do when you're an athlete. Not the good kind.
Made it out for the day on time.
Becoming a world-leading athlete takes dedication and commitment.
The training is long and hard, particularly in Olympic year.
So, today, we're going into the ice centre. What's happening today?
We've got the brief for the ice,
so they tell us what we're going to do, then, yeah, we'll go on the ice,
and I think it's about an hour and 45 minutes, two hours on the ice?
Oh, I'm going to yawn now.
When did you realise that actually you're pretty good at it?
-That it could be your future?
I think that was after Vancouver.
It was when I came back from there, I kind of was like,
I either stop now and go back to school and go be with my family,
or I can, like, switch my mind-set a bit and make a lot of changes,
and then make myself the person to beat.
I think the biggest thing that really changed was just the belief.
Thank God for parking sensors.
-You get a special... Boop!
Elise's coach is Nick Gooch
who won a bronze medal at the Winter Olympics in 1994.
He's been there and done it at the very highest level.
Now, he's helping Elise realise her true potential.
I feel like I'm skating better than I was yesterday.
Yeah, I think you're going good today.
What's your relationship like? How would you describe yourselves?
She likes to be competitive, so she's always, like,
so if I got to the gym and I train with her, she's always, like,
trying to compete with you.
The key is the mental toughness.
You know, how hard she's prepared to push herself,
and she's emotional invested on a daily basis,
which is why she gets so much out of the training.
However, investing that emotion on a daily basis also has a cost.
When you want to turn,
and you're using your hip to turn,
bring the left leg through, don't just keep the left leg static.
Do you understand what mean?
Yeah? OK. First group, let's go.
It's been an interesting ten years,
seeing the relationship develop gradually.
It started... We actually didn't get along at all to start with.
I was coached by someone else,
and then we got forced to work together
and that's when it really started to develop.
-I don't know, I'm really unfit just now, like when I'm skating.
Take it one at a time.
I think I know better than him all the time,
and he just finds that hilarious, you know?
So, yeah, it's been a funny relationship, but it's definitely...
You know, he's put just as much into this as I have, and I know that.
Use the lean! Keep the lean! Keep it!
But it's not been an easy few months,
Elise has been struggling with a thigh injury,
limiting the amount of training she's been able to do.
And she's had to miss some big races.
So, today was an increase in what we've done over the last two days,
and she was starting to feel it,
so progress in terms of the volume that we've completed,
she had a tough session in the gym yesterday,
so, again, it's just making sure we don't push too hard too early,
and that we build the training up
and she gets back to where she needs to.
Thankfully, plenty of time to recover before the Olympics.
And less training at the rink means more free time.
We're leaving you!
-And you've got two dogs, now?
-Yeah, two Chihuahuas.
So the second one, I know, was a gift, wasn't it?
Yes, that was a gift from Shaolin, my boyfriend, for my birthday.
I don't get to go out much,
so, me and Jack walk the dogs together sometimes
and it gives you something to do.
You've got something else to distract you from skating, I guess?
They're a lot of fun.
And it's nice to have some company at home
when you're living on your own.
-Of course, your boyfriend does live in Hungary, right?
-Yeah, he does.
So, it's not...
Obviously, we've got FaceTime,
but there's no-one there a lot of the time.
I mean, my neighbour comes round a lot,
so, I do have a lot of company, and my family try to get down,
but, yeah, with him living away, it's nice to have some dogs around.
Elise's boyfriend, Shaolin, is also a short track world champion.
Representing Hungary, he's based in Budapest,
meaning time together is rare.
I calculated we spent like two days
outside of skating together this year.
So, this year has been difficult,
whereas, last year, I was flying over for the weekends there
like, just to get a break and stuff like that.
Whereas we've only really trained together this year.
So, it's been a lot tougher, we felt like we've not really had any time.
It's like that one's... This one's now Santa.
-Everything has turned into Santa Claus.
She's trying to build this relationship as strong as she can,
even if we cannot be together. Sometimes it's hard, you know,
I'm living in Budapest and she's living in Nottingham.
So, I would say, I can't come any more to England,
and I think she would take that choice
and she would move to Hungary for me.
So, I think that's pretty good.
He's amazing for her, to be honest. He is really level-headed.
He's really laid-back and chilled.
I think, he's her opposite, and she just needs that balance,
so she doesn't go too far with things.
I think they're really good for each other.
Oh, that is cool.
That's not a bad thing to be compared to.
Even if something bad happened to her,
I'm always try to let her see the good side,
and the other side of things, and...
Yeah, I'm trying to be...
Maybe that's part of my job,
I will always just be there for her,
24/7, and just be always positive.
2014, in the Russian resort of Sochi.
Elise's second Winter Olympics
and a medal was a very real possibility.
With Sochi, I knew I was capable of medalling,
but I know I was very inexperienced
compared to a lot of the people I would've been racing.
I know I could be up there, and, actually,
by the time I got to Sochi that year,
I was skating the best I have ever skated.
Racing in three events,
she found herself with a chance at an unfamiliar distance.
And all of a sudden, I was in this 500 final,
and I hadn't been in the European Championship 500 final,
I hadn't been in a World Championship one,
I'd hadn't been in a World Cup one.
So, yeah, all of a sudden, I found myself in the 500 Olympic final,
which I found really cool,
because the 500 was always the most exciting one to me.
-The Ladies' 500 metres is about to get under way.
Away cleanly this time.
And Park Seung-hi of Korea gets a front position.
Fontana is being overhauled by Christie.
Oh, they've gone down, they've all gone down, in fact.
And there is only one skater left standing. Li Jianrou of China.
We can see the game here. The start was clean.
Coming out of that first bend, Christie charges down the inside.
There really wasn't an awful lot of room.
Crashes straight into Fontana.
And that collision has been assessed and looked at,
and the upshot of it is, Christie has been penalised, and, sadly,
after finishing second, she has now had to settle for fourth.
-I had the speed so I moved up. And...
Unfortunately, the girl hit me off my feet,
and that meant I then hit everyone else as I went down.
You've got the 1,000 and the 1,500 metres to go.
Yeah, obviously, I'm going to use the next day
to get my head back together. And then go for it.
The whole of the country is behind you,
and I'm sure you have every sympathy. Hard lines, today, Elise.
-You've made us very proud. Well done.
Two days later, Elise was back on the ice,
this time, trying to reach the final of the 1,500 metres.
But once again, luck wasn't on her side.
-Into the back straight.
They are all struggling behind the two at the front.
Who will go through by right? Here comes Fontana.
Oh, Christie takes it from Fontana,
and the Russian, Belyakova.
That is a great, great confidence booster, then, for Christie.
Oh, I can't believe it! Christie has been penalised again.
What on earth went on there? I couldn't see anything.
This is amazing, I can't believe this has happened.
I don't have a clue what's happened. I'm, like, gobsmacked, like...
I mean, I respected his decision the other day, but today,
I have no idea what's going on.
What is your reaction, Wilf?
Well, I have been in the sport for over 30 years and this,
I've never, ever seen anything like this
that has ever happened.
Straying barely a centimetre off the track
led to her second disqualification of the Games.
And as well as all the drama ON the ice,
she was dealing with something quite sinister off it.
I had quite a lot of abuse over the internet
and stuff that I've had to deal with.
It's been tough as well.
Um, yes, I'm finding it quite hard. I'm just...
What do you mean,
you've had stuff on the internet? What do you mean?
I've now just had, I've had, you know,
a few people just threatening me and stuff like that.
Just silly cyber bullying basically, but...
Yes, it's been a tough few days anyway.
What is that like to get a death threat?
Because I don't think most of us, thankfully,
will ever experience that.
When I'd heard of other people getting death threats before,
I had thought, "It's just an online message
"so surely you don't think, like, that's going to actually happen."
But you do when it happens to you, you do believe that that person
and those people are genuinely threatening your life
and your family's life.
So it becomes very scary
and I think, you know, I spent about six months after
feeling scared of, like, being in my house on my own
or going out on my own.
Just because so many at once just made it feel so real. Even though...
Realistically, it was coming from mostly the Koreans,
so they weren't going to be in England, but...
Yeah, it was a very difficult time.
Since I've gone to competitions,
since, everyone has been like super fans and really nice.
So it's been a nice turnaround,
and there is definitely no fear now of, like,
you know, getting anything happening.
And anyone that does say anything, I can now see that it's just...
They are just sitting behind the computer, you know,
thinking it's funny or feeling they're powerful.
When they're actually not.
But, yeah, it's very difficult at the time, I think,
for anyone to experience this.
With death threats preying on Elisa's mind,
there was one last chance for Olympic redemption
in her favourite event, the 1,000 metres.
Flying through the heats, she easily made the semifinal.
The 1,000, which was the last one, was actually, I think,
the most frustrating one
because that's the one where I would say I didn't do anything wrong.
-Here comes Christie. With the long run down the outside.
She has ignited the burners. She's up to third.
Oh! She's found a fantastic line down the inside.
Brilliant piece of skating.
But the Chinese skater has challenged her again on the inside.
And she falls, and takes Christie out as well.
And again, turmoil for Christie.
Oh, no! I cannot believe it!
Li Jianrou has been penalised and so has Elise Christie.
And she's not going to advance.
I just can't believe it's happened again,
like, it's the last thing I expected to happen today.
I was trying to skate so cleanly.
That night, after that third race, and you're back in your room
with Charlotte, your roommate, what was it like?
How were you?
I was probably better than I was a few months later.
Um, but, obviously, no, I wasn't great.
I didn't really know what to do, what to think about,
and how to, how can you cope with, like,
for me at the time, it was such a big loss, you know?
the thing that I'd dedicated everything to.
I'd worked ridiculously hard for,
and then I also knew
what everyone else had been saying on social media.
And hadn't seen the turn around of that,
because I'd turned my social media off.
So I was still under the impression
that everyone was just abusing me online.
And I just felt there was nothing anyone could do.
I was just so scared and alone.
It's really hard to watch anybody go through that, um,
especially when you are so close.
And I'm there, we were sharing rooms together.
Um, so each night, you know, you are trying to talk it through,
but there's not much you can say to someone when, you know,
she's got the disqualification, the falls,
and it just, it didn't go to plan.
She went into that Olympic Games,
she could have come away with three gold medals.
She was that good at that point, which made it even more devastating.
As parents, we found that really difficult to deal with.
And especially when, as you'll probably be aware,
they call it "the bubble" round the team.
And the bubble round the child, the athlete.
So it's really difficult for a parent
because you actually don't have very much access to your child at all.
And then you were getting all the media that was, like,
then getting reported on Facebook and the papers.
It was very difficult, actually.
The way Elise dealt with the disappointment
was by getting straight back to competition.
But those distractions only really proved to be a short-term fix.
I went off on my off-season,
and that was when I thought,
"No, I'm not going back because I can't deal with that,
"like, there's no way I could go through that ever again in my life."
And I was fine when I skated, but in my outside life,
I just became totally useless.
I was determined that I didn't need to talk to anyone,
and that I would get through it on my own
because that's how I always worked.
And I think, because,
at the time, there was no impact on my performance at the Games
from it, I thought, "Well, I'm strong enough to deal with this."
But, you know, I really wasn't.
Close to walking away from speed skating,
she considered a switch to track cycling.
But a sense of loyalty to the team,
who had stuck by her through the tough times, brought her back.
European titles followed, before, in 2017, she conquered the world.
From a point where you are thinking,
"I don't really know if I want to do this sport any more,"
to becoming the world champion, that is some turnaround, isn't it?
Obviously, it's my dream to be a world champion for a while,
but I wasn't actually aiming for the overall title yet,
that was on a different year on the trajectory.
Um, so I think, yeah, it just...
The first one, I think, you know, was the biggest deal.
-Christie leading the charge. It's going to be tight.
She's done it! She is the world champion.
I just remember screaming.
Like, and I never act like that.
My emotions tend to stay in the box in public, so...
For me to just scream like that, it was just incredible.
I think, when I got crowned overall world champion,
that was really when I couldn't take it in any more.
You know, it was just like, "I can't believe this."
And it didn't sink in for a very long time after that.
Probably hasn't fully sunk in now
because I'm so busy preparing for the next thing.
It is the biggest achievement in Short Track
to be crowned overall world champion.
Bigger than an Olympic gold medallist. You know?
It's just the biggest thing you could do.
So, yes, it was an incredible season.
Yeah, I think...
-Yeah, it was a great time, you know?
It's obviously very emotional thinking about it.
Yeah, I think...
You're on the journey with them.
On a daily basis, you are investing that emotion as well.
So I think when she achieves, then that means a lot to me as well.
In Seoul, there is a break in the training schedule,
and a trip to remind the team why they're putting in the hard graft.
What are you thinking when you see that?
Well, it still seems like a long time.
100 days is still, you know, almost a third of a year. So...
I thought it was actually a lot closer.
But it's quite nice to be in Korea, obviously,
when it is 100 days to go, because it's quite cool.
I didn't actually know until recently that we were going to be.
So, yes, it's nice to be around everyone
and be here where it's all being...
Where the clock is, you know?
Just describe what PyeonChang, these Winter Olympics,
what do they signify for you?
To everyone exterior, they want to see the redemption.
I already personally feel like I've made redemption,
so for me, it isn't about redemption.
For me, it is just about changing the way people view me,
but also, you know, it's a dream.
Every athlete dreams of being an Olympic medallist.
-Show us the medals, then, is this where you keep them?
Not on display.
No, they're going to get put on display,
I just haven't figured out which way I want to do it yet.
But, yes, boxed ones are all, like, championship.
What would you be like, Nick, if she won an Olympic gold?
-Yeah, I think, um...
Yeah, I don't know.
I would have said in Sochi
that she would have come away with three gold medals.
And I would put my money on it now.
To see it unfold how it did was heartbreaking.
And at that point, I was thinking she was one of the fastest
and definitely the strongest going into that Games.
And I was like, "Will she ever be that far ahead of the field?"
But actually, I feel like she's even stronger
and even faster than everybody,
and that was what her last season has just shown.
It wouldn't faze me.
If I was allowed to bet on it, I definitely would.
I would put it on her.
Seeing her as this small,
insecure girl who didn't really have a great deal of self-belief.
Now she went full circle to be in, you know, "I'm the best."
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
When she was a little girl, she would come in,
if something hadn't gone her way,
and throw her skates into the cupboard
and she's never going to do it again.
Now, we know how much it means to her
and how much it means to the team,
and we're excited and hoping that she will achieve her dream.
-Is there room there for an Olympic one?
-Three big smackers here.
Since the Olympics, I've always believed that, even if
there's something that is really getting to me mentally,
I'll be able to go out and perform. I'm not worried about that.
Which is why, I guess,
I feel like I'm robust enough for this Games coming up,
because it doesn't matter what goes on,
I think the performance will be fine.
But the point is,
why have I trained that hard to then settle for second place?
Like, that's almost not fair on myself.
The dream isn't to go out and, you know, sit in second place
and pick up a medal.
The dream is to go out and try and win the gold.
And you know what? That might mean we replicate Sochi.
But I'm not scared.
I'm not scared of doing that in terms of, like,
how hard I've worked.
I feel like I deserve to go out and try to win,
irrelevant to what anyone else is going to say about it.
I'm getting the impression
that it's more than just a nice piece of metal to you.
Yeah, definitely, like, you know what they say?
The medal will probably end up in a cabinet somewhere.
If I won one, like my world medals.
But it's not about, yeah, the piece of metal, it's about what it means.
It would be disappointing to stick by it for these four years
and that not to happen.
Obviously, that would be really tough.
But there is four more years after.
If needs be.
So it's OK.
Speed skater Elise Christie received death threats after crashing out at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, but now four years on she is Great Britain's best chance of a gold medal at the 2018 Games in South Korea. And as she completes her preparation for the biggest moment of her career, BBC Sport has followed the Scottish speed skater, gaining exclusive behind the scenes access. The people who know her best - her coaches, boyfriend, teammates and friends - describe how they helped pick up the pieces after the heartbreak of Sochi as Elise talks openly about the dark times she has experienced and how she hopes to finally complete her difficult journey with Olympic gold.