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Christie left cold as medal hopes are sent crashing

This time there were no tears.

Elise Christie makes her move to qualify from the short track quarter-finals but her ambitions of winning an Olympic medal would end in controversial circumstances following a crash in the semi-finals. Picture: EPA
Elise Christie makes her move to qualify from the short track quarter-finals but her ambitions of winning an Olympic medal would end in controversial circumstances following a crash in the semi-finals. Picture: EPA

In truth, Elise Christie was probably all cried out and seemingly resigned to the idea that these Olympics were always going to end in bitter disappointment and smudged mascara.

Christie had arrived in Sochi as a genuine medal contender in three speed skating events, but leaves with an unenviable record of three disqualifications. If bad luck really does come in threes, then good fortune must surely now be waiting around the corner.

After her disqualification in yesterday's short track, she would maintain that her greatest strength is an ability to get back after she has been knocked down. That is commendable, although the blows that have come her way in Russia would likely have felled a 7ft ice hockey enforcer, let alone the 5ft 3in skater.

The Iceberg Skating Palace sparkles in Sochi's Olympic Park but it has been the stage for some dubious - and, in some cases, downright murky - judging in recent weeks. That suggestion has been exacerbated during these Games by the number of subjective sports, where imperceptible differences in performances result in clear differences between a place on the podium or an early trip home.

That was not expected to be the case in short track, though. The sport involves athletes racing around at close quarters, reaching speeds of 30mph, and the first across the line is the winner. It is a simple and compelling pursuit.

However, Christie has still fallen foul of the judges repeatedly. She was disqualified yesterday for impeding another skater, China's Li Jianrou, who was doing exactly what Christie had done to earn a disqualification in the 500m final. It was a decision which even had prominent members of the sport shaking their heads.

"The reason we are so puzzled is because in the 500m, I got penalised for diving up the inside. We thought that was how the referee was going to judge it," said Christie. "She tried to come up the inside, I was pretty sure I was in front and I got pushed from behind off the back of my skates. I don't understand his point of view. My biggest problem is the [inconsistency], how are we meant to know what we can and can't do?

"Why are there all these different interpretations of the rules? It makes it us look stupid to people watching at home and it's hard on the athletes who train so hard and sacrifice so much to be competing at the Olympics. I have to respect the referee's decision, but I don't agree with it."

Christie had qualified from the quarter-final with ease, fuelling hopes that she could provide a storied Games for the British team - the most successful in 90 years - with a happy ending. However, as her semi-final reached its critical phase Christie was dragged down by Jianrou to be sent spinning once more into the crash mats, her Olympic dreams following after her.

British team officials would argue that Christie should be advanced to the final but Alan Grefsheim, the head referee who was also in charge of Christie's 500m final, instead opted to penalise her. It has been a wretched week, but has been made more painful by controversy.

Wilf O'Reilly - who won two short track events for Britain when the sport was a demonstration event at the 1988 Games - described the decision as "extremely harsh" and his view was unchanged by watching the incident from different angles afterwards. Team leader Stuart Horsepool also condemned the referee's decision as "wrong and outrageous".

Christie would not be able to withhold her disappointment either. "I was finding it really tough and trying to hold myself together for Great Britain," added the skater, who won 1000m world bronze last season and also claimed the European title over the distance.

"I really wanted to bounce back and was so pumped to do it for everyone and for myself. To have the chance taken away - whether I had won a medal or not - is just devastating.

"Everyone has been so supportive, irrelevant to whether I won a medal or not, they all think that the chance was taken away for me. I honestly don't understand this one and probably never will. I have been so proud of watching the other Team GB guys compete and wanted them to be proud of me too. I will come back in four years and try again, though. You can be sure of that."

Christie will now adjust her sights towards next month's World Championships in Montreal, where the lustre of a medal might put a smile back on her face. "I am going to do my best and try and enjoy it a bit more. I have spent four years working hard, trying to get this medal and be the best," she added.

"I have come a long way and I've improved so much as a skater. It will be nice to enjoy a competition after this because I've got so much more belief in myself.

"The worst thing was watching that final thinking I should be out there. Ever single person in that race I've beaten, that makes this tough."

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