“Acceptance of failure, letting go and accepting there are things out of your control” is not what you expect to hear from an international athlete, let alone a ten-time European gold medallist and 2017 triple World Champion. But as I spend time with Elise Christie and talk about the high’s, low’s and
everything else including her love of colouring her hair, it becomes very clear to me that this is a person and an athlete that had to in three short
years completely find herself and learn to skate again.
Behind what we see in the minute these athletes are on the television is a lifetime of commitment as well as a person that shares their failure in that
moment with the whole world and somehow must recover in private. Our mistakes and failures are seen by work colleagues and friends but for these athletes
billions around the world see and share this, but very few understand the damage and effect of these situations. History is littered with the almost’s and nearly’s as it is the few that can rise from such tragedy to become truly great.
Elise Christie is a British short track short-track speed-skater, competing in multiple distances. The darling of British speed skating with all the hopes
of the nation and “guaranteed” gold medals at the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014. Elise suffered the cruellest of Olympics anyone could imagine, including
disqualification in one event that to most of the world seemed unbelievable following hot on the heels of accusations, as well as a huge amount of
abuse on social media for allegedly pushing a competitor over in another event. In the space of a couple of race days her Olympic dream lay in tatters.
It was one of the stories of the Sochi Winter Olympics.
Fast forward three years and Elise has just won the World Championships in three disciplines, becoming not only the first British woman to win a gold medal
let alone three, but also the first European woman to do so. Such a historic achievement seems at odds with the opening comments but it is at the very
core of who Elise has become. We talk about the various aspects of what happened and her journey to where she is today, what were the significant moments
for her and the key things that helped her and could help others. What I liked was her humility and openness in talking about such a painful and potentially
career destroying event. There was a time when she “wanted to run and hide but I didn’t know what else to do” she tells me. By way of example as to
how broken she was, I asked her if she knew then that she would recover and win three world championships and her instant reply was “I don’t think
it would have helped, I just wouldn’t have believed it”. This is the damage these situations have on athletes around the world and yet very little
is written of it.
A time when she wondered how a sport that she loved and had given the last fifteen years of her life, six days a week, four times a day for could do this
to her. It took two years before Elise could even think about winning again and more importantly, as she got back into skating she found that she couldn’t
skate in the same way anymore. Something had happened and she needed to learn to skate and trust herself in a completely different way. When travelling
at 30+ miles per hour on a blade only 1mm thick you need to be able to trust yourself and have years of practise as Elise explained. This is not a
journey an international athlete expects to have to take at this stage in her career.
Elise is clear that the turning point for her was when she finally looked for help of a sports psychiatrist having tried to do it on her own. Added to
this as a Sky Sport Scholar, Elise was given a mentor and the finance required to purchase equipment that not only stabilised her injuries but improve
her. So often people talk about money, but with Elise it’s the support that she kept coming back to in our conversation, yes the money allowed her
to do things she wouldn’t have been able to but the support, that was the key. Through her mentor Ex-England legend Will Greenwood she was able to
talk about her past and work through to what she talks about now. A place of acceptance and one where you can’t spend your life thinking about all
the things you can’t control. As she explained to me it was only this year that she could think of winning gold medals again. As Elise says of this
time “without the support and mentoring I would have given up. I have been taught about acceptance of failure” and as she added “but it isn’t easy
getting your brain to accept it”.
We keep talking but always come back to the same place, the support that she has had is what has got her through, not only that of her family and friends
(as you would expect) but her mentor and as she interestingly calls them, her Sky family.
Elise has firmly dealt with the past and along with the support she has been given, adapted, learnt and moved forward to a better place personally and
professionally. Her strength of character is a testament to her love of the sport and her desire to do what she does best. There is a depth to Elise
in our conversation, a quite assurance that she understands more and has what she needs to succeed in this fast and competitive sport.
I look forward to seeing Elise go from strength to strength in her pursuit or greatness, I have no doubt she will achieve it.
Elise Christie is a current Sky Sports Scholar and The Sky Academy Sports Scholarship Scheme is now open for applications from sporting stars aged 16-25. Applications close at midnight on Sunday 26 March: http://www.skysports.com/scholarships .
There was no financial gain from this article, I felt that it was good to give credit where credit was due and Elise spoke highly of the scheme and how
she benefitted and so it is only right to acknowledges schemes that support athletes so positively. Given the huge amount that athletes give of themselves
for their countries it is great to see a program that is having an impact on athletes in a positive way, one that fills the gaps and supports them
to become great. Also, to mentors such as Will Greenwood that are changing the outlook and destiny of athletes with what they do.