Speed-skating sweethearts Elise Christie and Jack Whelbourne, of Hucknall, have received the perfect boost ahead of this weekend’s European Championships.
The star duo collected a cluster of titles at the latest British Championships -- and then starred in a prestigious, first-ever international tournament to be held at Nottingham’s National Ice Centre.
Now they are brimming with confidence as they travel from their Hucknall home to Dordrecht in the Netherlands, where the Euros are taking place. Christie is the reigning European gold medallist in the 1,000m, her best event, having won two golds in Malmo, Sweden in 2013.
The line-up for the British Championships, which were also held at the couple’s home rink of Nottingham, lacked strength in depth. But that was no fault of Christie (24), who sailed to a hat-trick of titles in the women’s 500m, 1,000m and 1,500m, beating her two rivals, Charlotte Gilmartin and Gemma Cooper, into second and third each time.
Whelbourne (23) faced seven challengers in the men’s section, and won the 1,500m title. He also came second in the 500m and 3,000m and fourth in the 1,000m.
The pair then played a massive role in the International Skating Union’s (ISU) Star Class Cup, which graced the Nottingham arena for the first time.
The tournament attracted more than 100 competitors from 14 nations. But Christie repeated her hat-trick of victories, while boyfriend Whelbourne claimed top spot in the men’s overall classification after winning a tense and exciting 1,000m final.
Said Christie: “The weekend was really useful for me to fine-tune my racing skills and focus on the technical side of things.
“It was good to compete on home ice. Not having to travel helped me to prepare mentally.
“I feel that my skating hasn’t been as strong this season. I’ve been fast but not as efficient, so the Star Class Cup was the perfect opportunity to work on that.
“It’s always a nice feeling to win, and I’m now looking ahead to the Eueopean Championships, where we will face some tougher challenges against more experienced skaters.”
In all, Team GB won 14 medals at the Star Class Cup, which was hailed a huge success and left the Nottingham arena hankering for more top tourneys in the future. Among the supporters on the opening day were 3,000 schoolchildren, who were able to rub shoulders with the elite British squad.
Said Whelbourne: “To skate in front of my home crowd and my family was a great experience. But to compete in front of all those schoolkids was a feeling that can’t be beaten. They were so excited. Hopefully we’ve helped to inspire the next generation of Olympians.
“The weekend proved that short-track speed-skating can fill stadiums. We’ve got great facilities in Nottingham and would like to host a European Championships, World Cup or World Championships next.”