Olympic curse weighs on Christie in short-track speedskating

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GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — When Elise Christie was asked whether an Olympic curse was ruining her chances for gold, the three-time short-track speedskating world champion had no option but to agree.

"You can say that," Christie said Tuesday, hobbling on a swollen right ankle and a bruised body that she probably should not have taken out for a third and last event at the Gangneung Ice Arena.

Then again, this is the Olympics, where everything had already gone wrong in her first two events and in all of her individual races at the 2014 Sochi Games.

"You could not have written that in a book," the British skater said.

It would probably take a book just to list her series of bad luck and mishaps that are so typical to the controversial sport, where high impact crashes and disputed referee decisions often decide anything from gold to a first-round elimination.

A favorite for multiple gold medals at the Pyeongchang Games, Christie crashed in the 500-meter final. But this is short-track after all, and she still had the 1,000 and 1,500 to come.

Never did she imagine that her infamous 0-for-3 at the Sochi Games would repeat itself. Four years ago, she was disqualified in all her races. And as is so often in the sport, most disqualifications are disputed — even years later.

The biggest disappointment this year came in the semifinals of the 1,500 on Saturday, when she crashed out and went skates first into the padding at high speed. When replays were shown, some people covered their eyes, unwilling to see how her legs were mangled by the force.

Competition had to be stopped for several minutes and Christie had to be carried off on a stretcher.

That would be the end for most athletes, but not for Christie.

Despite ligament damage, she forced her swollen, tender right ankle back into the tight-fitting boots for training. On the eve of Tuesday's 1,000 heats, she was still hobbling around her bedroom, unable to put weight on her foot.

"I thought, 'Just try,'" she said.

In an Olympic effort of resilience, she made it to the start of the heats. Even there, it was painful to see the world champion line up.

And just when you thought nothing could get worse, it still did. In her first start, her injured right ankle got clipped by an opponent and she immediately fell to the ice. She gingerly got up and had trouble standing as a restart was called.

The pain was so intense that she was hoping for an adrenaline rush to temporarily dull it. It didn't come.

"I was thinking, 'There is no way I can skate now,'" Christie said.

Then another thought came.

"I thought of everyone back home and everyone watching. I just thought, 'You know I have to try,'" she said.

On the second start, she couldn't put much weight on her right ankle, letting the three other skaters go ahead as she slowly gathered pace and caught up after a few laps.

Then, suddenly, she had the look of a world champion again, and with darting moves and sheer pace she navigated through the pack and into second place. Enough to advance.

"I thought I made some really good moves and I was quite happy with such a bad ankle and stuff," Christie said.

Amid the cheers, it smacked of a storybook ending, too good to be true.

It was.

The referees came in and slapped her with a yellow card for two infringements. Out she was — for good.

Christie said she had no idea why the referees disqualified her, but she promised she will be back for the 2022 Beijing Games.

"Six races of my life that have gone completely wrong," said Christie, who was carried away by head coach Nicky Gooch. "I have four more years to come back and do this."


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Raf Casert


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