IN these modern days of Lottery funding and sponsorship, athletes, more often than not, have the luxury of a significantly reduced financial burden upon their shoulders as they chase their dream of making it to the top of their sport. 

Not Kathryn Thomson however; the UK’s top short-track speed skater has had to commit everything financially in her push to make it to these Winter Olympics. 

“I’ve been an unfunded athlete this Olympic cycle which is hard because this sport is so expensive – this season alone has cost me around £22,000,” she says. 

“It’s a lot of money to put into trying to get to the Olympics.” 

Thomson made her Olympic debut four years ago in Pyeongchang but following those Games, lost her funding. 

She decided to continue pursuing her Olympic dream, despite knowing the financial commitment was going to be considerable and so that decision, coupled with the fact this Olympic cycle has been turned upside down by the pandemic, has ensured the past four years have been something of a rollercoaster for the 26-year-old from Irvine. 

Such was the pressure, Thomson decided to do something which is almost unheard of in elite sport; she took a year-long break from skating just two years out from these Winter Olympics. 

It was a bold move. She continued fitness training but she spent her days working for a furniture company and saving up every penny she could in order to make one monumental push for a place in team GB for these Beijing Games. 

On her return to competitive action last year, a disappointing performance did, admits Thomson, make her wonder if she had made a monumental error. 

“Not long after coming back, there were definitely a few moments when I thought I had made a big mistake in being out for a year, especially when my first race back was shaky,” she says. 

“Being aware of the huge financial commitment myself and my family had made to this, it felt like a huge pressure.  

“After that first event not going well, it was a very emotional time going into the second event of the season. My coach really helped me regain a level mindset because I really was thinking oh my goodness, I’ve made a mistake here and potentially wasted tens of thousands of pounds.” 

However, Thomson’s class soon began to shine through. 

Impressive results in the remaining Word Cups of the season ensured she did enough to gain selection for Team GB for the second time and, she admits, the struggle to get to Beijing has made her second Olympic appearance all the more special. 

“To have gone through everything I did and qualified for these Games means the absolute world to me,” she says. 

“It was my dream come true to make the team for Pyeongchang in 2018 and I didn’t think anything could feel more special than that but it really does because this time, I’ve done it on my own with the support of my family.” 

The year’s break has, in fact, ultimately been a huge positive for Nottingham-based Thomson. 

She begins her Olympic campaign today, in the 500m, with the 1000m and the 1500m to come later in the Games and her time away from her sport has, she says, given her a fresh mindset and will be on the start-line in the shape of her life both physically and mentally.  

Short-track speed skating has, over the past decade at least, become notorious for the spectacular crashes that make or break an athlete’s Olympics. 

This reputation is, at least in part, due to the fate of Thomson’s long-time teammate, Elise Christie, whose Olympic career was defined by collisions and disqualifications. 

However, despite the impression many outsiders have formed of the sport, Thomson insists this is somewhat inaccurate. 

“If you watched speed skating all year round, you’d notice things were ever so slightly calmer outwith the Olympics,” she says. 

“The Olympics is unlike anything else; everyone has trained for four years for it and people sometimes do take more risks because of what’s at stake and that’s why things can seem so crazy at the Games. 

“You need to be more ready at the Olympics to see people flying about the track than you have to be any other time.  

“For me, I’m not someone who likes to be at the front of races – I like to be in the middle to the back of the pack and pick off people one by one, I don’t go for one bold move so much. So I do have quite a different racing style to Elise but the way she approached her races at the Games was so brave. 

“I remind myself of everything that’s familiar to me and I visualise some of the situations that might come up just so I’m as ready as possible.” 

Thomson has traditionally favoured the shorter distance but this season, it is in the 1500m in which her best results have come.  

She is reluctant to set any concrete goals for the next fortnight but one thing she is adamant of, having overcome countless obstacles just to make it to the start line, is she’s going to have fun. 

“This cycle, as most people would say, hasn’t gone how I expected,” she says. 

“Since coming back after my year out, I’ve enjoyed racing so much more so my main goal at these games is just to enjoy it - to come off every race smiling. And, if I do that, I’ll skate well.”