Who is Elise Christie?
The 2014 Sochi Olympics couldn't have gone any worse for Elise Christie: the British short track skater was disqualified in all three of her events. But she's rebounded from her Olympic disappointment to become the first European woman ever to win the overall title at the short track world championships. She'll have a chance to make more history in PyeongChang, as no British athlete has ever won an Olympic gold in short track.
Short track beginnings
Elise Christie was born on August 13th, 1990 in Livingston, Scotland. She started her career on ice as a figure skater, but found that she enjoyed the athleticism of the jumps more than the artistic side. For fun, she started doing weekly speed skating training sessions around age 12.
Shortly before her 16th birthday, Christie decided to switch to short track for good when she was invited to join the British speed skating national team. Being a member of the national team meant leaving Scotland for Nottingham, England, where she lived with a host family.
Christie made her world championships debut in 2007, and competed at the next five worlds without stepping onto a podium. That changed in 2013, when she claimed her first world championships medal, a bronze in the 1000m.
That same year, Christie won her first European titles, claiming gold in both the 1000m and 1500m at the 2013 European Championships.
19-year-old Christie made her Olympic debut at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games. She competed in all three individual events, and finished in the top 20 in all three. Her highest placement was 11th in the 500m.
Christie returned to the Winter Olympics in 2014 as a two-time European champion and a world championships medalist with real hopes of claiming her first Olympic medal. Instead, Christie experienced a tumultuous two weeks that ended with disqualifications in all three of her events.
In the 500m final, Christie was involved in a crash with two other skaters, South Korea’s Park Seung-Hi and Italy’s Arianna Fontana, but recovered to cross the finish line second. However, the judges ruled her at fault for the crash and disqualified her.
In her next race, the 1500m heats, Christie crossed the finish line nearly tied for first—but the judges determined that she had crossed just slightly inside the track and gave her a DNF (did not finish) ranking.
The 1000m was her last chance for redemption, but a crash in the semifinal with China’s Jianrou Li left her disqualified again.
Christie’s nightmare of an Olympics continued off the ice as well. Fans of Park blamed her for taking the South Korean star out of gold medal contention and flooded her social media accounts with abusive messages. She closed her Twitter account and was so affected by the harassment that she considered quitting the sport.
Most of the vitriol came from South Korean fans, but Christie said she’s not worried about her reception in PyeongChang. Instead, she said the crowd welcomed her when she competed at the Olympic Test Event.
Christie has shown steady growth since the 2014 Sochi Olympics, improving her world championships results every year. At the 2014 Worlds, held shortly after the rough Sochi competition, Christie won silver in the 500m.
A year later, Christie repeated as the 500m silver medalist and also picked up a 1000m silver at the 2015 Worlds.
The 2016 World Championships were even more successful, as she earned her first overall medal, a bronze, as well as three individual event medals: silver in the 1000m and bronzes in the 1500m and 3000m.
The 2017 World Championships were Christie’s most dominant yet: she won two world titles, in the 1000m and 1500m, and a 3000m bronze en route to claiming the overall gold medal.
Christie’s golden performance at the 2017 Worlds was a triumph not just for her and her country but for her entire continent: she was the first woman from Europe ever to win the overall short track gold and the first British woman to win an individual world short track medal. In fact, the last time a woman from a country other than South Korea or China won the overall world title was 1994.
She’ll have more chances to make short track history at the PyeongChang Olympics: no British athlete has ever won an Olympic gold medal in short track, and no British woman has won an Olympic medal of any color in short track.
In fact, only four countries have won Olympic medals in women’s short track since the sport: China, South Korea, Canada, and the U.S.
While Christie skates with her hair tucked beneath a helmet, she frequently plays around with different hair colors off the ice. Her usually light blonde hair has been pink, purple, gray and more over the years.
"After Sochi, I spent two years feeling terrified of failing. My racing was more about trying to win medals than trying to win. This year, I just thought, ‘Well, there’s no point just thinking about medals any longer’. For me, it was about taking risks. So, while in the 1500 I got the gold, in the 500 I missed out on the bronze and ended up fourth. It has been a big shift in mindset." -- Elise Christie to Telegraph
Off the ice
Christie has been dating Liu Shaolin Sandor, a short track skater who represents Hungary, for several years. Liu also competed at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and is a medal favorite in multiple events for the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.
Christie is an athlete ambassador for charity Right to Play, a charity which aims to inspire children around the world, including in refugee camps, through sports and play-based learning.