Winter Olympics: Why Elise Christie tugs at nation's heartstrings

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Christie disqualified in 1,000m heats
XXIII Olympic Winter Games
Venue: Pyeongchang, South Korea Dates: 9-25 February
Coverage: Watch live on BBC TV, Red Button, Connected TVs, BBC Sport website and mobile app. Full coverage times

Say what you like about Elise Christie, but when it comes to drama, the British speed skater is pure box office.

Despite her final attempt to win a Winter Olympics medal ending in failure in the 1,000m, she still managed to tug at the nation's heartstrings so intensely.

The race only lasted 90 seconds, but from the nervous excitement on the start line, through to the crushing disappointment of disqualification as she was carried off the ice by her coach, it was a tortuous finale to the triple world champion's Olympics.

In other words, sport at its most compelling.

Former GB speed skating team-mate and BBC Sport pundit Sarah Lindsay and former coach Archie Marshall relive the same emotions that many viewers also experienced.

Sarah Lindsay
Sarah Lindsay said she was "smiling through the tears" after Christie's emotional disqualification

'I felt so emotional, so drained'

Sarah Lindsay: When we cut back to the studio after Elise's race and Clare Balding asked me to sum it up, I have to admit I was welling up. All I was thinking was 'don't cry'.

Every time Elise has raced at these Winter Olympics, I've woken up feeling nervous for her and Tuesday was no different. As the race approaches I turn into robot mode, almost as if I'm getting ready to compete myself.

That's because I know what she has been through to get to this position. People don't see how hard she has trained and the sacrifices she has made.

That winning feeling is something I chased my entire life, a feeling which gives you so much relief and euphoria. So even though it sounds a bit selfish, in a way you are reliving your life through her. It's because you want it for her so much.

During the race, I was really tense and stressed, and when it all comes crashing down, I felt so emotional, so drained.

It must be a fraction of what she is feeling.

Elise Christie
Elise Christie fell but after a restart finished in a qualifying spot, only to then be disqualified

A 'sinking feeling' at the start

SL: For Elise to even make it to the start line after injuring her ankle in the 1500m on Saturday was an achievement in itself. I was proud of her that she wanted to leave it all out there. After crashing out of her two previous races, she had nothing left to lose.

Like everyone else watching, I was hoping that she could just get through this round and it would buy her a couple of days to recover for the next stage.

Archie Marshall: I felt pretty confident before the race despite Elise carrying an injury. She was so much stronger than the other girls.

But when there was a clash of skates at the start, my heart sank. It was the ankle which was already injured and I felt awful for her.

Chris Bebbington
Elise Christie's performances at the Winter Olympics have drawn a mixed reaction

She's done it! Or has she?

AM: When the race restarted, I was up and shouting at the TV, but I had a terrible sinking feeling that it was history repeating itself.

I was GB coach for 10 years and in the 1994 Olympics we had a similar situation when [speed skater] Wilf O'Reilly got knocked out in the semi-finals. It was exactly the same feeling.

When [Christie] crossed the line in second, I hoped she was through but because the refereeing had been so inconsistent, I just waited for the confirmation.

Then, your stomach drops right out of you. The great hope was gone.

GB gymnast Becky Downie
GB gymnast Becky Downie showed her support for Christie

'Like rubbing salt in the wounds'

SL: After the race it was pure relief, but because there was contact during the race there was always a chance the referee could call it, even if you don't know why.

When the disqualification came it was like rubbing salt in the wounds. She had no idea she was yellow carded, which shows she had a clear conscience. Nothing she did was deliberate.

She has never been yellow carded before, so when that came up, it just felt like someone had it in for her.

At that point, you bring a lot of your own emotions to the table.

Elise Christie tweet
Elise Christie was characterised in many forms

'It just didn't work out for Christie'

SL: Elise has trained her whole life for this and is an incredible athlete. People watching her for the first time won't know how good she is.

At the World Championships last year she had that magic that no-one else had and it gave me a real excitement for these Games. Jon Eley, her former team-mate and coach, said she was that good, she could turn up on the day and race backwards.

That's the real shame: the fact she didn't get a chance to display that special talent and that natural flair that is so unique and beautiful to watch.

AM: Speed skating is such a tough sport and you have people compressed into such a small area at incredible speed.

The millimetre blades are 17 inches long, and the margin of error is so fine. Everybody says she is brave, but she is no braver than anybody else racing. It just didn't work out for her.

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'I'll be back for Beijing' - Christie

'She can go away and make her third Olympics'

SL: I would have loved to have been there for her, and she messaged me afterwards to say 'wish you were here'.

But even though it's been emotional, I feel like I've been a voice for her. I am very much on her side and I wanted viewers to feel the sport and feel it with so much passion.

She'll be back at the next Olympics because she is a winner, but she needs to get away from the sport for a few months, have a holiday and spend some time with her family.

AM: In her interview, she put a brave face on it, but she will be pretty broken at the minute.

It will be much easier to deal with than Sochi. In the immediate aftermath four years ago, with the social media reaction, she really was broken.

What helped her, in addition to support from her family and team, was the support from the general public. I know that touched her and made a big difference.

The world loves a trier, those that give their all. She knows that now, and she can go away and make her third Olympics.

Elise Christie fan
Elise Christie retweeted support from those she has inspired after the race

What has Christie done for the sport?

SL: Despite the results, people will have watched this sport because of her personality and her character and there is no doubt speed skating has had a lot more recognition during the Olympics.

When she talks you can see her emotions, and that's the way it should be. Elise makes you feel like you need to protect her and I think younger people can relate to that vulnerability too.

It's not a hobby, it's her whole life, so she won't quit now. She is the fastest in the world and when she comes back she will perform brilliantly.

She is not going to give up that last hope for an Olympic medal.

Former England rugby union captain Lewis Moody
Former England rugby union captain Lewis Moody added his thoughts

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