JON ELEY believes Elise Christie’s high-profile decision to come out of retirement and target a return to the Olympic top table is a significant shot in the arm for short track speed skating.
Three-time world champion Christie, 31, announced her shock U-turn last week after retiring in December having fallen short in her bid to qualify for Beijing.
The Scottish star has endured a series of rotten luck on the Olympic ice – crashing or being disqualified from every event at PyeongChang 2018 – but is aiming for a return to the big-time and the bright lights of Milano Cortina 2026.
Britain’s short track stars once again failed to fire in Beijing and Solihull’s three-time Olympic skater Eley, British Ice Skating’s performance and talent manager, hopes Christie’s surprise return can trigger an upturn in long-term fortunes.
Team GB’s flagbearer at Sochi 2014, said: “She’s had a major impact on the sport over the last decade and to have someone like her wanting to still stay in the sport and continue to compete is great.
“I’ve not been able to catch up with her [since the decision] – we’ve had a few races to work for [in Beijing] but I will do when I when I get back.
“What we’re focusing on [at the moment] is the guys that are here, their performances and hopefully the young guys coming through in the next cycle as well.”
The Winter Olympics have never been a happy hunting ground for British short track stars and despite all three of this year’s team showing promise on the World Cup circuit, that pattern continued in Beijing.
Farrell Treacy reached the final of the 1500m event but brother Niall crashed in his 1000m heat and Kathryn Thomson – the most experienced member of the team – withdrew from the Games on medical grounds after also struggling in two of her three distances.
The trio’s preparations for the Games were boosted by a £20,000 injection of funding from UK Sport, with the Beijing Support Fund providing vital assistance for winter sports not in receipt of World Class Programme funding.
Speed skating, figure skating, luge and bobsleigh were among the beneficiaries ahead of Team GB grabbing two medals – both in curling – in the Chinese capital.
And Eley, 37, who claimed fifth and sixth place finishes at Turin 2006 and Vancouver 2010, added: “Bringing in the Beijing Support Fund and seeing the opportunity in ice skating is massive.
“It gives them a welcome boost in what has been obviously a tough couple of years for everybody, but also a tough Olympic cycle for ice skating in general.
“I think it’s a nice momentum builder in the sense that these young guys showed a huge amount of commitment from not just themselves but also from probably their parents and networks.
“It’s a major boost not only for the current athletes but hopefully going forward to unlock further investment that will make a big difference to the next cycle.”
Elsewhere in Beijing, figure skaters Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson scored a top-ten finish on Olympic debut and Cornelius Kersten produced the best British Olympic speed skating performance since 1964 when he finished just three tenths of a second off the medal positions in the 1000m.
Eley said: “The other guys as well really, really stepped up to deliver solid performances in an environment they’ve never been in before.
“For them, just to qualify is really impressive and to come out here and put in some personal best performances is great to see.”
UK Sport has an ambition to become an ever-greater force in winter sport. The Beijing Support Fund, which utilises Government and National Lottery investment, demonstrates UK Sport’s commitment to a wider group of sports, athletes and teams in the high-performance community as part of its mission to create the greatest decade of extraordinary sporting moments; reaching, inspiring and uniting the nation. For more information visit www.uksport.gov.uk