Elise Christie: Speed Skating queen has world at her feet

At 5ft 3in, she too frail to be a speed skater. Yet she’s the one to beat in World Championships  – and she likes it that way

At first sighting there is not much to Elise Christie. She stands 5ft 3in and, clad in a roomy British tracksuit, appears slight. She speaks softly too. This is the deception of appearances. Play a game of word association with her coaches and there is one winner. Elise Christie is tough.

“They always say that,” says Christie. “Sometimes I look at other people and think: ‘You’re not doing that the best you can.’ Sometimes I look at myself and think: ‘You’re not being tough enough’.”

That is not an opinion echoed by the coaches of Britain’s speed-skating team, a collection buoyed as never before by the success garnered by Christie. They will take to the rink in Debrecen, Hungary’s second city, for the start of the World Championships today to begin a year that holds the promise of being like no other in the brief, and rarely glittering, history of British speed skating. This time next year it is Sochi and the 2014 Winter Olympics.

“Elise is super mentally tough,” says Nicky Gooch, the head coach and Britain’s only ever Olympic medallist, having won bronze in 1994. “She’s good technically, has good glide, efficient movement but really it’s the mental toughness that makes the difference.”

Christie is the best in the world at her signature event, the 1,000 metres. Britain has never had a female world champion, nor an Olympic champion of either sex and that could change over the next year.

Short-track speed skating, racing around a tight 110m oval at speeds of up to 48kph (30mph), is a notoriously unpredictable sport. A single slip can cause chaos – in the 2002 Olympics the unheralded Steven Bradbury was adrift in last place when the rest of field were caught in a pile-up, leaving the Australian free to amble through to take gold. Bradbury had only reached the final because of another crash among his competitors in qualifying. Christie will be the one to beat in Debrecen this weekend, and in Sochi next year after a season that has established her as a double European champion – she also won the 1500m – and the World Cup champion, Britain’s first ever, after eight podium finishes, two of those gold.

The concern in Christie’s camp is that the good times have come too soon. Not for any distractions or lack of application that may follow – far from it – but rather her opponents have a year to work out how to stop her. The bigger nations, such as Canada, Korea and China, race as teams. Their lesser lights will effectively gang up on Christie and, so goes the blueprint, leave their best skater a free run. It is all within the rules, and because Britain has fewer skaters at this level it leaves Christie vulnerable to attack.

Combating that has been the focus of preparation at the team’s training centre in Nottingham. “It’s been going quite well,” says Christie. “You have to scare them a bit so they are not so confident of doing it.”

Christie’s usual approach is to race against tradition. She likes to lead from the front, whereas most of the top skaters prefer to tuck in and draft – much like track cyclists. Christie’s reasoning is she can control the race from the front, it keeps her out of trouble and her strength is her power – again the appearance of the 22-year-old belies the steel within. She really is, as the ad for a fizzy drink popular north of the border used to have it, made in Scotland from girders.

“I don’t want to sound big-headed – I’m not a cocky person – [but] I’m a lot stronger than a lot of girls,” she says. “I might not be as good a racer [so] if I’m at the front I’m giving myself the best opportunity.

“Not a lot of people can lead round a whole race and win it. If you’re in second, it’s a lot easier, you’re drafting, following their stride. Out in front you have to set the stride, fight against the wind. It’s hard physically leading from the front but I find it a lot calmer. I like being at the front, giving it everything you’ve got.”

Christie’s results have improved dramatically over the last year but it is in the wake of her Olympic debut in Vancouver three years ago that this transformation has its roots. That Christie had talent had long been obvious – she was asked to move to Nottingham from her hometown of Livingston to train full-time when she was just 15 (it meant giving up school a year later, a move that most teenagers would have leapt at but Christie wrestled with, once again conforming to her nonconformity). An 11th place in her first Games aged 19 was, on the surface, a sound result but afterwards she decided it was nothing of the sort.

“Vancouver was my turning point,” she says. “I came into speed skating thinking I just want to skate in the Olympics. I didn’t think I was going to be anything special. Then I came back from Vancouver and thought: ‘There’s no point going to another Olympics and just being someone competing in it – the aim is to win.’ My mentality changed – I went out there and thought I’ve got to make them beat me now rather than trying to beat them.

“Vancouver really did change me. It’s strange – it’s not like anything went off in my life. Usually it’s something dramatic that happens and you change yourself. I just sat down and thought about it, thought that I might as well make it worthwhile.

“I did my 1,000m there and I skated from the back of the race. It was like I was just happy to be there. Afterwards I thought: ‘Right, I want to be someone who tries to be the best.’ It doesn’t mean I’m going to be the best but I will do everything I can to make me the best.”

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?