Elise Christie (GBR) competes at the European Short Track Speed Skating Championships Dordrecht (NED) 2019 © International Skating Union (ISU)
Elise Christie, the first British and European woman to become an overall Short Track Speed Skating world champion, has retired. The 31-year-old won more than 70 major international medals but leaves the sport after a series of injuries left her depleted and unable to fulfil her long-stated ambition of securing a fourth Olympic appearance in Beijing in February. There is little doubt that Christie did, “change the sport in Great Britain”, as she said in her retirement statement.
I’ve been putting this off.— Elise christie (@Elise_Christie) December 14, 2021
I will have a lot to say and I know a lot of people with have a lot of questions… but for now it’s time to announce my retirement from short track speed skating. pic.twitter.com/70u9g3Wnqv
At her best the strong, powerful skater was untouchable on the ice. From 2015-2017 she claimed three world championships, two European championships and nine World Cup titles on her way to becoming the first ever British world number one. “I defied odds, never made excuses for having less than my opponents and I walk away with over 70 World Cup, European and world championship medals and a fourth place at the Olympics,” Christie said on social media as she announced her retirement.
“I am not a decorated Olympian but I am a decorated athlete.”
This final statement points to the one gap in Christie’s sporting CV, an Olympic medal proving elusive during her three appearances on the biggest sporting stage of all.
Christie made her Olympic debut in Vancouver in 2010 as a highly rated 19-year-old. A best finish of 11th in the 500m confirmed such promise and Christie arrived in Sochi for the 2014 Olympic Games expecting to challenge for the top step of the podium. Instead, agonisingly, she was disqualified in all three individual events.
First, she was judged to have caused a crash in the 500m final, then she was ruled out of the 1500m heats for not crossing the finish line before finally crashing again in the semi-finals of the 1000m, her strongest event.
The Scot weathered tough times off the ice following the Games in Sochi. She later labelled the period 2017-18 the “worst year of her life” as she suffered from severe depression and anxiety. Yet somehow, Christie picked herself up and continued to produce some sparkling displays on the ice, winning 1000m, 1500m and overall gold at the 2017 ISU World Short Track Speed Skating Championships in Rotterdam.
Unfortunately, she was unable to replicate this stunning success at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games. Fourth place in the opening 500m was followed by another disqualification in the 1500m, a race in which she injured her ankle. Despite bravely opting to compete in the 1000m, Christie was clearly below her best and once again found herself disqualified after a crash.
“Part of my heart will always be missing because I never achieved my end goal,” Christie said. “But I leave this sport knowing it’s left in good hands, with skaters capable of doing what I didn’t.”
Elise Christie (GBR) competing at the World Short Track Speed Skating Championships in Rotterdam (NED) 2017 © International Skating Union (ISU)
Mental health advocate
She also leaves Short Track as an inspirational figure to many. The Scot has talked extensively in recent years about her on-going struggles with her mental health, opening up on issues including self-harm and anxiety.
In 2019 she also revealed in a social media post that she had spent periods on antidepressant medication and in her autobiography, published this year, Christie spoke about being the victim of sexual assault when she was just 19.
Elise Christie (GBR) wins gold, next to Jorien Ter Mors (NED) and Arianna Fontana (ITA) in the Women's 1000m at the ISU European Short Track Speed Skating Championships 2013 (SWE) ©AFP
New Olympic dream
Intriguingly, the 31-year-old left the door open to new sporting endeavours as she announced her retirement.
“This won’t be the last of me you’ll see in sport, but I’m taking a new venture down a different path,” Christie wrote.
“I won’t reveal for now my sporting plans for 2026 but the Olympic medal dream isn’t over.”
Determined, effusive and hugely talented, Christie will certainly be an asset to whihever sport she turns to next.