Last chance of Winter Olympics glory for speed-skating duo

FINAL CHANCE OF GLORY -- short-track speed-skater Elise Christie in action in Sochi (PHOTO BY: David Davies/PA Wire).
FINAL CHANCE OF GLORY -- short-track speed-skater Elise Christie in action in Sochi (PHOTO BY: David Davies/PA Wire).

Today is D-day in the last, desperate bid to salvage a medal from the wreckage of the Winter Olympics for Hucknall’s short-track speed-skating duo.

Controversy, bad luck and injuries have conspired to turn the Sochi Games into a nightmare so far for Elise Christie (23) and her boyfriend Jack Whelbourne (22).

But today (Friday), Christie could still snatch a gold medal if she runs to form in her last event, the ladies’ 1,000m, in which she is the current European champion.

She produced a scintillating performance to romp home in her qualifying heat on Tuesday. Now she faces the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final in Russia between 4.30 pm and 6 pm this evening. All races are being shown live on BBC 2.

“I have been down and struggling phsychologically,” admitted Christie, who is one of the favourites for gold. “I just want to make everyone supporting me feel proud.”

Christie, who hails from Livingstone in Scotland, and Whelbourne, who is from Lenton, met while training at the National Ice Centre in Nottingham. They moved into a new house together in Hucknall just before Christmas.

Their Winter Olympics of discontent began when Whelbourne crashed out of the men’s 1,500m after taking a heavy fall in the final.

He had done remakably well to become the first Brit to qualify for the final., But the ankle injury he sustained in the fall hampered his performance in his two subsequent events, the 1,000m and the 500m.

Sadly, Whelbourne failed to make it through the heats of either event. But he was more concerned with girlfriend Christie and praised her “amazing” comeback from adversity this week.

The Scot, widely regarded as the best female short-track speed-skater Britain has ever produced, had to cope with double disqualification in her first two events -- followed by volleys of abuse on Twitter.

It all started in the final of the 500m when she was penalised for causing a collision as she tried to barge her way up the inside.

That triggered a bout of ‘cyber bullying’ by thousands of angry Korean fans who felt her actions had robbed their skater of gold.

The messages got so bad that Christie had to close her Twitter account. But things got worse days later when she was thrown out by the judges again after winning her heat in the 1,500m -- this time because she skated marginally inside the finish line.

She has only been able to come through the trauma with the support of Whelbourne and the British team.

“I have found training quite difficult, really emotional,” she said. “I was even considering not getting back on the ice.

“It’s the lowest I have felt in my career. I found it so hard dealing with the abuse on the Internet, and I was gobsmacked by the disqualification decision in the 500m. I was just playing safe, trying not to be near anyone

“But I have always had that grit in me that keeps me going and when I was told about the support I had back home, it really boosted me.”

Christie’s coach, Nicky Gooch, is sure she can go close to success today providing “she has her mindset right ,and her love for skating is back”.

Gooch is the only Briton ever to win a short-track medal at the Winter Olympics -- back in 1994 when he was a teammate of Hucknall’s Jamie Fearn (now 38), who was British champion six times, European champion twice and a world silver medallist.