British sport stood up to salute Hucknall-based speed-skater Elise Christie this week after she was crowned queen of Europe.
The 24-year-old Scot was overall champion at the European Short-Track Championships for the first time, landing three gold medals in total.
And her success was ample consolation for her unbelievable run of misfortune at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia almost exactly a year ago when she suffered three disqualifications.
“I still can’t believe that I am the European champion!” shrieked Christie as she came off the ice at the end of a memorable weekend at Dordrecht in the Netherlands.
“I didn’t actually realise that I’d won until it was shown on the board. I feel like I’ve skated really well this weekend, and I will now look towards training for the rest of the World Cup series and then the World Championships in Russia in March.”
Christie, who moved from Scotland to Nottingham as a teenager to be close to the National Ice Centre, was in terrific form from the start of the championships, winning every race she contested on her way to gold medals in both the 1,500m and the 500m.
Nervous memories of Sochi came flooding back in the final of the 1,500m when she clipped the heels of Italian favourite Arianna Fontana on the last lap. As Fontana crashed to the floor, Christie burst into tears after crossing the finish line because she feared she would be disqualified yet again.
However, the judges ruled that she was not at fault, allowing the result to stand, and Christie went on to bag another gold in the 500m final, leading from the gun.
“I am absolutely ecstatic that I won the 1,500m and 500m,” she said. “However, it completely shocked me, to the point that I got a bit emotional afterwards.
“I’v never even got to a European 500m final in my whole career, so I’m over the moon. I definitely feel that all my hard work has paid off.”
Christie was a warm favourite to complete a hat-trick of golds in her best event, the 1,000m, in which she was the reigning champion from the Europeans in Dresden, Germany last year.
However, after winning her heat and quarter-final, she received a penalty in the semis and did fall foul of the judges. The title went to Russian rival Sofia Prosvirnova, whom Christie had pipped into second in the 1,500m and 500m.
The disqualification meant the Hucknall speedster had to skate well in the last event, the 3,000m super final, to hold on to top spot in the overall classifications and claim her third gold.
She duly finished a fine second, behind Patrycja Maliszewska, of Poland, to give her 89 points on the 36-skater leaderboard, ten clear of Prosvirnova in second and 37 clear of Maliszewska in third. Fellow Brit, Charlotte Gilmartin, who reached two finals, was placed seventh with 17 points.
“The aim of the day was to focus on the 1,000m as it is my strongest distance,” said Christie. “Unfortunately, I got a penalty, which meant I didn’t qualify for the final. However, I didn’t let it get to me and made sure that I turned my attention to the 3,000m super final.”
Christie’s boyfriend, Jack Whelbourne, with whom she shares a house in Hucknall, also acquitted himself with credit in Dordrecht. He was ranked 13th overall, in a 46-strong field, having finished ninth in the 1,500m, 13th in the 1,000m and 16th in the 500m.
Team GB performance director, Stuart Horsepool, was full of praise for the whole squad, but reserved a special tribute for Christie.
“I’m so proud of Elise for the way she has coped with the ups and downs of the sport,” said Horsepool. “She skated brilliantly, and I couldn’t be happier for her.”
His views were echoed by coach Jo Eley, who said: “Elise has done a great job bouncing back from adversity. She produced some smart racing to take her first overall title.”
Christie and Whelbourne have now begun their preparations for the final two rounds of the World Cup in Dresden on 6th February and Erzurum, Turkey the following weekend.
Christie is in the top six of the classifications after winning two bronze medals at the last round in Seoul, South Korea before Christmas.