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GANGNEUNG, South Korea — For every story of unexpected triumph in the Olympics, the soft-focus Olympic TV features tell us, there’s a story of crushing agony. If that’s true, the heartbreaks of Elise Christie are supporting a whole fistful of gold-medal stories.
Christie came into the ladies’ 1,000-meter speed skating event on a run of astonishing Olympic failure. That sounds incredibly harsh, but really: How else would you characterize six straight failures to finish, either by wreck or disqualification? Christie has become the hardest of hard-luck stories, the Buffalo Bills and the Cleveland Browns and the pre-2016 Chicago Cubs all tied up in one Union Jack-wrapped package.
Let’s run down Christie’s Olympic trauma right quick:
2014, 500m final: Disqualified after getting tangled up with another skater halfway through the race.
2014, 1500m heat: Disqualified after apparently winning her heat; judges ruled she had made an illegal move at the finish line.
2014, 1000m semifinal: Disqualified after colliding with another skater in the final turn of a semifinal heat.
2018, 500m final: Attempted to push through the pack late in the race and fell.
2018, 1500m semifinal: Crashed on the final turn of the semifinal, injuring her ankle.
Which brings us to Tuesday night. Christie’s ankle, injured in that 1500m race, was so swollen she had a hard time getting it into the skate. Then came the 1000m race itself, Heat 5 of 8. Christie lined up against skaters from the Netherlands, Poland, and Hungary. The crowd hushed, the gun flashed and sounded … and within seconds Christie was sliding into the wall, her wounded ankle screaming in agony. She’d collided with Hungary’s Andrea Keszler, and had taken the worst of it.
That’s it, it’s over, she thought, leaning against the padding that surrounded the rink. I’m not going to be able to do it.
But then she thought of her fans in Great Britain, the fans who would be watching this race over their morning coffee. And she decided, I’ll give it a go for them.
Since the race had crashed going into the first turn, there was still a restart awaiting. And so, with the knowledgeable crowd swelling in praise, Christie got back to her skates and lined up once again. Her ankle was in agony, but she fought through it and decided to run smarter, not harder. All she had to do was finish second in the race to move through to the semifinals two days hence; 48 hours would be a lifetime in Olympic terms to heal up a wounded ankle.
We’ll start slow, and then catch up, and qualify, she thought. And then she went out and did almost exactly that.
She let the pack get ahead of her, but then fought her way back hard. She crossed the line in second, only to learn to her horror that she’d been handed a yellow card — a disqualifying penalty — for unsafe racing. She’d nudged one competitor and bumped another on her way to the front. End of race, end of story, end of the Olympic dream for another four years.
“It’s not because it’s the Olympics” that she has bad luck, Christie said after the race, “it’s short track. For all the success I’ve had, I can’t let this define me.”
The true shame is that Christie is simply outstanding in every venue other than the Olympics. She’s a 10-time European gold medalist, a two-time European champion, a world record-holder. Call it nerves, call it bad luck, call it poor timing, whatever — she just happens to come up short every time the spotlight’s the brightest.
But she intends to use this litany of failures, as well as the support she has back home, as motivation. “I can’t thank Great Britain enough. That’s why I was back out there,” she said. “That’s why I’ll be back trying to do it in Beijing again.”
More Olympics on Yahoo Sports:
• Germany-Switzerland featured a game misconduct nine seconds into game
• George makes history for Canada in women’s bobsled
• Busbee: Christie’s run of bad luck at Olympics continues in 1,000m
• Norwegians want medal for curling if Russian is found guilty of doping
• The X Games events are basically the only thing the USA is winning