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Whelbourne eager to continue despite thrilling spill in the short track final

JACK Whelbourne would have only an ice pack and a limp to show for his appearance in the Olympic short track speed skating final in Sochi.

Scotland's Elise Christie was impressive in the 500m speed skating heats. Picture: Getty
Scotland's Elise Christie was impressive in the 500m speed skating heats. Picture: Getty

Short track is a sport where thrills and spills are guaranteed and, in Whelbourne's case, it was a the latter. He had progressed through the 1500 metre heats in textbook style, setting a British record in qualifying and then finishing second in the semi-final behind favourite - and eventual gold medallist - Charles Hamelin.

For a while it seemed as though Great Britain would be celebrating an improbable second medal in Sochi just 24 hours after collecting their first. The Games were still just three days old. It was a hope which then skited away within a moment and splintered against the crash mats.

Whelbourne, a former world junior champion, had been mixing it with the best when he started to make his move in the closing laps. However, a loose block marking out the track was kicked under his skate and he went spinning into the matting. He would be left clutching his ankle in pain but x-rays later confirmed that he had not suffered a broken bone.

"I don't know what's happening with my ankle now but I can't have any complaints about my performance and reaching an Olympic final," said Whelbourne, without rancour. "I just started to get involved with the racing and when I made my move a block went under my feet and it's given me a bit of a twisted ankle.

"It's quite a common accident in the sport, you have seven or eight people in a race with close overtakes and unfortunately it's happened to me when I'm in my best form. I got a British record in the first race and I got a win under my belt, which is great for confidence.

"If I carry on skating like that there is no reason I can't do the same in the other two distances. I surprised myself and I just need to keep a level head now. I want to skate the other two distances. I'm definitely getting back on the ice, if I can."

History was also pulled from under Whelbourne as he fell, since Great Britain have not won a short track medal since 1994. That was when Nicky Gooch, now the team's coach, won 500m bronze in Lillehammer. However, hopes are high for the five-strong team in Sochi - with Elise Christie and former Olympic finalist Jon Eley also considered to be medal contenders.

The sight of Whelbourne crashing out yesterday was especially painful for Christie, his girlfriend. The Scot had earlier progressed through her 500m heat with ease, showing similar overtaking skills to compatriot Jackie Stewart as she navigated her way to the finish line unscathed and in first place.

She will return to action in Thursday's quarter-finals and will be braced for another competitive race, even without reigning champion and world record holder, Wang Meng. The Chinese has been ruled out by injury.

"This is a good chance to warm up and work on those weaknesses in a competition environment because the 500m is not so important to me. I'm very honest about using this a build into the other two events," said Christie, last year's world No.1 and the current European champion over 1000m.

"I had a lot more speed in me, I was being patient and just trying not to get knocked over. I've a lot more in the tank and there is a lot of racing to come. You've got to get the tactics right and I'm really pleased to nail it."

Elsewhere, Chemmy Alcott claimed that she was happy with 16th place in the downhill element of the women's super combined, after pulling out of the slalom and using the event purely as a live practice run for tomorrow's downhill.

Liz Nicholl, UK Sport's chief executive, and performance director Simon Timson are likely to be interested spectators for that event, with the pair in Sochi to assess how the £14m investment in Team GB is paying off. UK Sport has set a target of between three and seven medals from these Games, a total which is not insignificant considering one would need to go back 90 years for the last time Great Britain won four.

If UK Sport really wanted a big return on their investment then they might consider speed skating astheir best chance. Short track throws skaters on to an arena, sits back and waits for the carnage, unlike its older, more established sister event which pits athletes against the clock.

The Netherlands have a team of 41 in Sochi and more than half of them are speed skaters, the sport having become something of a national obsession. So far the Dutch have won seven out of the nine available medals in the sport, including all three golds.

That means the Netherlands are now soaring at the top of the Winter Olympic medal table, completing their second clean sweep of the podium in yesterday's 500m, which was won by Michel Mulder.

UK Sport can also look at the results gleaned from track cycling following heavy investment in the sport in Britain. The country were transformed from also-rans to a world power in eight years, winning seven out of 10 golds during the last two Olympic Games.

There are also physical similarities between successful cyclists and skaters; Canada's Clara Hughes won Olympic medals in both sports. Perhaps it is time that UK Sport turn their focus to skates rather than wheels.

n Samsung are a partner of Team GB and are supporting the Samsung Galaxy Team. To meet the team, see exclusive content and win amazing prizes, including once-in-a-lifetime winter sport training sessions with Samsung Galaxy Team athletes, www.samsung.com/uk/sochi2014

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