Quintet on short track to success at PyeongChang 2018

Elise Christie celebrates at the ISU World Short Track Speed Skating Championships (Reuters)

TASS will be represented in force at next year’s Winter Olympics with all five short-track speed skating athletes selected for the Team GB squad having been supported by the programme during their careers.

Triple world champion Elise Christie will be joined on the plane to PyeongChang by teammates Charlotte Gilmartin, Kathryn Thompson, Farrell Treacy and Joshua Cheetham.

Since winning the 500m at the World Cup in Seoul last month, Christie admits she’s hungrier than ever for gold at the Games: “Winning a gold medal while I had an injury has just given me so much confidence. I know I’m so much stronger going into the Olympics than I was in that race.

“And obviously what happened at the world championships was incredible. I didn’t even realise straight away, but I was the first ever British woman and European woman to win the overall title. That’s just an indescribable feeling.”

TASS alumni Christie and Gilmartin return from the team who competed at Sochi in 2014, with 500m world record holder Christie competing in her third Games. Meanwhile, Thomson, Cheetham and Treacy will all be hoping to make a name for themselves at world level as they make their Olympic debuts in Korea.

“It’s really great to be able to train with Charlotte [Gilmartin]”, Christie explained, “as we’ve been best friends since 2005 so we’re super close. Our tactics are quite different though – I like to go out hard and lead the race, where Charlotte has taught me about passing skills.

“I hope the others will enjoy their first Olympics and get the experience ahead of Beijing. With so many of us in the team that could do well at the Games, it’s actually less pressure.”

But the unpredictable and risky nature of racing in the sport means short-track athletes are prepared to walk a tightrope between disaster and glory.

“We always say ‘it’s not luck, but you have to avoid bad luck’ and that’s what makes me love the sport so much and makes it so exciting. When you do win, you can be gobsmacked!

“Physically you could be in the best shape ever, but still not win. It’s so difficult and frustrating but you have to accept its part of the sport,” Christie added.

Teammate Gilmartin shares a similar sentiment: “I’m going to the Games to medal this time. Of course, in short track it’s not quite as simple as that!” she said.

“I’m hoping to make the right choices and get the tactics right, but I know it’s possible now so I’ve got the confidence. After that, we’ve got world championships a month later so I’ll be going there to either celebrate or make amends for the results in Korea.”

Having relocated from Redditch to Nottingham aged just 15 to pursue her speed skating career, Gilmartin has always had a gutsy attitude towards achieving her sporting dreams.

And that’s where TASS stepped in with specialist support services to help the talented teenager to progress to the next level. “I remember going to down to London for a TASS induction with people like Tom Daley there and he was tiny at the time!

“I think it really helped me to see the journey ahead and identify what directions are available. TASS also supported me through that difficult transition to Nottingham and without the financial help, it would’ve taken me much longer to make the jump.

“I think you grow up a lot faster when you move away from home having to do things like learning to cook for yourself. Looking back now it was tough but I think it really developed me as a person.

“It was a big risk but when you’re young you just don’t think about it like that. I’ve been really lucky that the team are like a family and I had the support to help me to manage school and skating.”

Fortunately for Gilmartin – and the future of speed skating in the UK – the gamble paid off. “I just hope we can really build on the success of the Games,” she said.

“Teams like Canada have about 2,000 skaters based in Montreal alone, whereas we have about 200 in the whole country! I feel like that comparison shows how amazing we could be at the sport.

“If we can inspire more people to try the sport and the participation was greater, we could really go some way to achieving this dream.”

“We have such a good programme in place and the ice rink really facilitates us, but unfortunately at the moment we just don’t have the numbers,” agrees Christie.

“It’s all about the belief. At the moment there’s no evidence so you have to create the belief yourself and that’s why I’m so excited for us to go out and do it in Korea.”