Speed skater and Sky Scholar Elise Christie on pre-race agony and a brutal fight for ice glory

By Mark Ashenden

Last Updated: 24/03/2017, 11:02 GMT

Elise Christie started short track speed skating aged 12
Scottish star Elise Christie started short track speed skating aged 12

Crashes, flying around one millimetre above the ice at 35mph and the wits and guts needed to "destroy" her rivals is not for the faint-hearted.

Short track speed skater Elise Christie makes her living by doing all of this and has begun her World Cup season in fine form with a gold and a world record in her first two races.

So what's this brutal and beautiful sport really like? The Sky Academy Sports Scholar opens up ahead of this weekend's races in Shanghai.... 


It's incredible to come back from the first two races with a world record and a gold, but I can't help but feel slightly disappointed. Those races weren't as amazing as I'd hoped, and most of what went wrong weren't really in my control.

I had some equipment problems that meant a lot of falls, although the positive was when I stayed on my feet I won races and smashed records!

Physically I'm in a really good place and ahead of my two big events before Christmas, here's an insight to what I do!

In a race, we hit speeds of 35mph, which in a car isn't that fast, but it feels very fast when you're on 1mm thick blades.

Racing is very different to training, though, and it's really hard to hit the same speeds due to things like fatigue and ice conditions. In the two days before competition the mood in the camp can be strange. There's generally a lot of joking around and playfulness, with some getting very excited, while some get serious and stressed.

It's really difficult to mimic racing in training in terms of physical impact and strategy, but most of all it's difficult to mimic what your body goes through on race day with the adrenaline, excitement and the will to win. If we do race practice in training, then I compete against the boys, which is a whole different ball game!

Many people believe athletes lead very glamorous lifestyles, although the food often won't reflect that! It's also very hard to get enough food intake on race days due to the schedule.

I often find myself splurging on bananas, gels and water to boost my energy. I put a lot of focus into the night in between races to refuel and help my body recover.

On competition day, all athletes have different routines. I see my routine as 'relax and attack'. Unfortunately we aren't allowed on the ice in the build-up so we have to focus our warm-up off the ice. I prefer a very intense warm-up which helps me get the nervous system prepared for a race and ready to destroy!

What comes next is my least favourite part of the day - those first steps on the ice to race.

Most athletes skate around and get the feeling. I like to go to the start line and wait. That's where I mentally prepare, using imagery to get my body ready, help switch my nervous system on and get the adrenaline pumping.

I'll focus on what I'm going to do, how I'll do it and how I can beat my opponents and I can overthink sometimes which leads to mistakes.

I'll generally talk to my opponents nicely. We all want the same thing and I don't believe what happens on the ice needs to come into our lives off it. Everyone makes mistakes, especially under pressure, so I find it unnecessary to allow what happened in a race to affect off-ice relationships.

Then there's the infamous words, 'Go to the start, ready…' The skater goes into ready position and this is the worst moment in short track - waiting for the 'GO', trying to be the fastest, while also trying to make sure you don't jump the gun and false start. Sometimes it feels like a lifetime before that gun goes off!

Some track skaters make a few plans and use which plan is best for that type of race. Some make plans based on who they are racing. Some will just make a plan that's for themselves and won't alter that regardless of the changing scenarios.

I'm physically very strong and fast, but lack adaptability and race skills, so my plans are normally very self-focused or based on who I'm racing. As a general rule, you're either better fighting at the front of the race or be more relaxed and not wasting any energy.

There are plenty of times I've planned to lead, but ended at the back. You often have to decide to fight or conserve energy over a split-second. It's not easy. Short track is down to circumstance and when it gets to the later rounds with stronger athletes, it becomes much less about the physical and much more about racing the right way.

Sometimes you can have the perfect race and still not qualify, because of the circumstances, like the ice breaking from under your feet on the last lap.

The hardest part of short track is the overtaking. Imagine this...35mph. Eight people. Single lane track. 1mm thick blade. It's super exciting, but very challenging. If you're unlucky and get a bad lane draw, this can totally affect the outcome of your entire competition. Getting from sixth to first in a 1,000m is very difficult, even for the best of skaters.

In training, skating feels really fast, and if someone bumps you it feels terrifying, and once your legs get tired it's almost impossible to overtake. It's the total opposite in a race.

Fast lap times no longer feel as fast and if someone bumps you it's either just annoying because they've taken you out of the race, or it makes you want to fight them even more and hold your position.

You could say racing feels easier than training. It's not easy to stay on your feet while racing either - you're literally putting everything you've got into it and sometimes physically pushing yourself harder than you can cope with. The ice is breaking and it's uncomfortable, and it's probably why there are so many falls in short track. 

Falling can be scary. It depends how you fall and what type of pads they have in the ice rink. Some rinks have borderless systems, which means they don't have hard boards behind the pads, so unless you're falling with other skaters, it's not really scary to fall into these.

However, when you fall into the harder boarded systems, it can be scary because you have to think fast and move your body appropriately to protect yourself. If you're falling feet first, then you need to either throw your legs up or spin yourself around in that split moment.

Some skaters hear everything when they race, some won't. I don't tend to hear anyone unless my coach is waving his hands for me to notice him. So I'm not always the easiest skater to coach - I always zone out!

However, I believe this is what makes me really strong, because I have the ability to zone out from the leg pain. The only thing I can really hear when I skate is my name. I remember a race when a coach from another nation kept shouting my name to put me off! That was a nightmare!

In the final laps of a race you're almost panicking to hold onto a position or move up. This is the most stressful part as you're doing everything you can to cross that line first. If you're in front, there are up to seven people trying to overtake you from different directions and if you're not in front you're trying to figure out which line is best to hit back.

The finale is always really exciting. Hopefully I'll have won!

After the race, I normally walk to the changing room with my helmet still on and spin my legs on the bike. My emotions are always very mixed. If it's gone well then I'm relieved and proud.

Otherwise, I'm normally frustrated and I won't speak to anyone! Short track can be a very frustrating sport but I love it.


WHAT'S COMING UP FOR OUR SCHOLARS....

DEC 9 - 11: Elise Christie, World Cup short track speed skating in Shanghai

DEC 11: Jessica Judd, European Cross Country Championships, Italy

DEC 16 - 18: Elise Christie, World Cup short track speed skating in Gangneung, South Korea