By Neil Leverett
- Elise Christie sets Olympic Record in 500m short-track speed skating heats, Andrew Musgrave finishes seventh in Skiathlon
- British Men’s trio fail to qualify for final of Snowboard Slopestyle
- XXIII Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea run until February 25
PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA – With the 2018 Winter Games under way, it has been a mixed start for Team GB in the far East. Elise Christie returned to Olympic competition after Sochi with an emphatic statement, Cross-Country skier Andrew Musgrave impressed in the 30k skiathlon, but it was a tale of Brit woe from Phoenix Park in the Snowboarding.
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Christie lays down emphatic marker
As a triple-world champion in short-track speed skating, sliding onto the Winter Olynpic ice in Pyeongchang for Elise Christie still brought back a wave of memories for the Scot.
Four years on from a tale that the likes of Euripides would do well to have re-told, the 27-year-old began her mission for redemption after Sochi heartache in Russia in the heats of the women’s 500m at the Gangneung Ice Arena.
Wanting to remain out of trouble in the early rounds of competition, Christie who was the fastest woman in the field blazed out in her heat containing Korean hope Shim Suk-hee and Qu Chunyu and led from the outset.
Christie did not look back and held the chasing pack at arms-length to cross the line in a new Olympic record time of 42.872, as China’s Chunyu came in behind the Nottingham-based skater.
There will be tougher times ahead for Christie in the quarter-finals on Tuesday, but the Brit has been handed a favourable draw away from the likes of old foe Arianna Fontana, Canadian Marianne St Gelais and Fan Kexin of China. Should she negotiate that, the semis’ and finals then await around lunchtime the same day.
Aside from Christie there was disappointment for fellow Brit Charlotte Gilmartin who was disqualified in her heat for having been adjudged to have had a arm on a competitor, with Kathryn Thomson crashing out and finishing third in her respective heat.
Team GB last won a speed skating medal in Lillehammer 1994, when Nicky Gooch took bronze in Norway. As Gooch – Christie’s coach – watches on later this week, a nation – and indeed the judges – will be watching closely.
Musgrave impresses in ‘least favourite’ 30k Skiathlon
As Cross-Country skier Andrew Musgrave headed out onto the 30km course at Alpensia, there were genuine beliefs – not least of the now Nordic based-Poole athlete himself – that a medal could be in the offing at the XXIII Winter Games.
In the first of the three races the 27-year-old will compete in, Musgrave stuck with the Scandinavian clan he had spent much of the current season with and with 4km to go was sitting in a very composed second spot leading the chasing pack to Simen Hegstad Kruger – who had been involved in a crash at the start of the race.
On the penultimate climb on the course however, the endurance factor kicked in however, as Musgrave slipped backwards, but still held firm to remain within glance of the both the chasing pack and eventual winner Hegstad, fighting back the pain barrier to finish in seventh place.
Musgrave was disappointed nonetheless with his finish to the race as he told BBC Sport:
“When we had a lap-and-a-half to go I was feeling really good and confident,” he said. “I thought I’d be able to get a medal. I tried to keep up with [eventual winner] Simen Hegstad Kruger and went a little bit hard and slipped back through the field.”
“At least I know I’m in good form. The 15km should be my best event – I should be in a fight for a medal. It’s a decent result but I’m not at the Olympics to come seventh. I’m here to fight for a win.”
With the 15km freestyle on Friday, it was however a massive fillip for the Brit who will now approach another battle with his Nordic foes in good position to mount a full-blooded assault on the podium at the end of the week.
Brit-flop in Slopestyle
In one of the events that underlines the Winter Games’ radical outlook, the Snowboarding competitions began on the opening morning with the men’s Slopestyle. As racing was delayed due to technical issues, the course was primed in temperatures close to ten degrees below freezing at Phoenix Park.
Still reeling from Katie Ormerod’s injury that ruled the Bradford rider out of the Games, Team GB had three hopes of booking a place in the men’s final to boost British moral.
First up was Jamie Nicholls who was a outsider for a medal on the highly-technical course in Pyeongchang. After Nicholls – the cousin of Ormerod – layed down a solid first run, the Brit sat in sixth position on the bubble of qualification for the final.
On his second run, after again utilising the railings on the upper part of the course, when going for complex combination on the penultimate kicker, Nicholls over-rotated and tumbled on landing and having been usurped by previous rider Torgeir Bergrem – after controversial judging scores – the Brit was out, in seventh. He finished a further place down the standings in eighth spot.
In the second heat both Billy Morgan and Rowan Coultas failed to put together a single clean run and added to the frustrations felt around the camp. In the women’s event, racing was canceled on Sunday due to adverse weather conditions, which means the entire field – including GB’s Aimee Fuller – will all compete in a two-run final which begins at 1am on Monday morning UK time – weather permitting.
Big Air is also still to come for most of the British riders later next week, but after disappointment in the slopestyle – which saw Jenny Jones take a bronze in Sochi – there is palpable feeling that a chance for a medal has now gone.
Elise Christie goes in the women’s 500m short-track speed skating finals on Tuesday morning, February 13 from 10am UK time at the Gangneung Ice Arena in Pyeongchang.
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