Toughening Up Elise Christie

Britain had high hopes that speed skater, Elise Christie, would bring home a medal from Pyeongchang.

Christie had previously competed at Vancouver in 2010 where she was unable to reach the top ten in any of her events. At Sochi in 2014, a medal buzz grew following her blistering form in the European Championships, but there was heartbreak instead. She was disqualified from the 500m final for colliding with the Italian, Arianna Fontana. In the 1500m event, Christie was disqualified for not crossing the finishing line. And in the 1000m semi-final, she was disqualified for a third time for colliding with Jianrou Li. The amount of harassment directed towards the speed skater on Twitter led her to close her account.


Christie entered the 2018 Winter Olympics, as a double world champion and was nicknamed the fastest woman on ice. The speed skater was hailed as Team GB’s most likely medal winner. Christie started the Winter Games well, qualifying for the 500m easily and setting an Olympic record. In interviews, she was happy with her performance, saying she wasn’t even at her best yet. It wasn’t to be. Van Kerkhof’s skate clipped her hand and she crashed out. Despite finishing 1st in the 1500m event, Christie collided with Li Jinyu and was once again disqualified; the collision caused Christie an ankle injury which put her participation in the 1000m in doubt. She did compete in her heat, but fell before the first corner, meaning the race was restarted, then finished 2nd but was carried off in pain. Judges disqualified Christie for causing two separate collision incidents, putting any dreams of medals well and truly to bed.

So what’s next for Elise Christie?

Firstly, get off the ice. Recover from the injury and take some time away from the sport. She has confirmed she will be back for the 2022 Winter Olympics; if she qualifies, she will be 31 years old and that will likely be her last opportunity to show what she can do.

It’s time to rebuild and time to reassess. To face major competitions again, Elise needs to ensure she is mentally tough. Mental toughness can be described as the ability to achieve personal goals in the face of pressure from a wide range of different stressors; it encapsulates resilience, hardiness, tough-mindedness, and the ability to cope.

Why is it important? Mental toughness influences:

  • Attitude: people’s belief and commitments
  • Training: motivation, environmental control, able to push self to the limits
  • Competition: ability to handle pressure, self-belief, regulating performance, staying focused, and in control of thoughts
  • Post-competition: ability to handle failure or success

Elise has faced these hardships before and went into South Korea feeling much stronger than Sochi, but now she’s back to square one. Few athletes will experience the same number of devastations on the Olympic stage, and the worst outcome is for Elise to question whether all the hard work was worth it.

The good news for Elise is that she has shown her pace and shown she is capable of making the podium. Now, she must work on staying mentally tough to be able to withstand these setbacks; this can be achieved through many avenues.

Environment: Influence of parents, childhood background, and experiencing and surviving early set-backs

Character: Independence, self-reflection, resilience

Tough Attitudes: Exploit learning opportunities, go the extra mile, be willing to take risks, and set challenging targets

Tough Thinking: Able to think clearly and robustly about self-confidence


In terms of Christie’s psychological development, it’s crucial that she continues to challenge herself and surrounds herself with the right support. There are four general dimensions to developing mental toughness:

1. Sport Process – this is hinged on training and competing: Elise must ensure training is consistent well-prepared, and simulates competition. Competitions should include both good and bad experiences, across different environments, and consistency should be achieved.

2. Sport Personnel – Coach; the coach should employ transformational leadership, instil hard work and discipline, and provide emotional support and motivation. Teammates; need to provide encouragement and rivalries as well as providing emotional support. Although Elise competes alone, she’s part of the speed skating team from Great Britain as well as the wider Team GB umbrella.

3. Non-Sport Personnel – Elise should look to parents, siblings, and her partner for motivation, encouragement, belief, and feedback.

4. The Environment – Within the training environment, hard work, competitive attitudes, and determination needs to be instilled. The family environment should display an interest in speed skating as well as promote hard work and a never give up attitude. Lastly, Elise needs someone she can model from – which is difficult when you’re the fastest woman on ice.

Can mental toughness really protect an individual from heartache when the pressure is so great?

There is an argument that the pressure placed on her by Team GB was just too much. Elise was expected to bring home a medal; a double world champion is expected to make the podium – but she choked, again. Sports is a business.

Lizzy Yarnold & Laura Deas celebrate their skeleton medals

The women’s bobsleigh team had no funding and instead raised their own money to attend the games where they achieved Britain’s best ever result. Conversely, the men’s bobsleigh under performed – woefully – and their funding will likely be cut. Money has been ploughed into the skeleton with great results; Lizzy Yarnold defended her gold  medal and Britain achieved a men’s and a women’s bronze. What next for speed skating? It received close to £5 million in the run up to the games to achieve results, but was it worth it? UK Sport have said that they will not cut it, as long as Christie commits to Beijing 2022 as they still believe she has a chance of making the podium.

Elise Christie has proved she has the ability, now she needs consistency and the way to do that is ensuring mental toughness throughout all aspects of her life.


Toxic Masculinity Part Two – Phrases & Injuries

How often have you heard these phrases? Man up. Be a man. You play like a girl. In hockey, Cindy Crosby and the Sedin Sisters are thrown about. These are commonplace phrases, I’m guilty of using them, but they are sexist. Maybe you don’t use them to intentionally hurt, but if you stood on somebody’s foot by accident and it hurt them, would you apologise? They motivate one group by putting down another and rendering them inferior. When you insult another player by telling them they play like a girl – what you are saying is that girls are inferior, your sporting ability is inferior because it is girl-like. This can deter girls from sports, especially typically male ones like rugby or hockey. Serena Williams’ body receives scrutiny for looking masculine – hello, she’s a 21 time grand slam champion athlete with a serve of 128mph, her body is going to be muscley, but that doesn’t mean it’s masculine! Samantha Stosur has also endured comments based on her non-feminine physique “she played like a man, and it’s really hard to play against a man” – whatever that means. Athletic women who do not meet the criteria for being feminine, i.e. dainty and pretty, are assumed to be homosexual and thus are met with homophobic attacks. Without getting too sidetracked into the diabolical treatment of female athletes, this video does a great job at illustrating the double standards for men versus women in sport by the media. The famous campaign of This Girl Can is empowering girls to enjoy exercise.

You’re not here to be a girl about it – Morgan Reilly.

Although ‘be a man’ gives us one of the best songs in Disney history, what this phrase is really saying is that to be good you must fit with these masculine ideals – what you currently are is not good enough. Being a man means you must be strong and stoic. Don’t be a pussy. Because of this doggedness to appear invincible, too often male athletes play on through injuries or take extreme risks. There is a pressure upon footballers to continue to play through an injury which can lead to pain, more severe injuries or chronic ones. Suck it up and carry on. Injuries are awful. They can be anxiety inducing and career ending. Generally, the more masculine a man perceives himself to be, the less likely he is to seek treatment. Injured athletes experience depression at a rate six times higher than that of non-injured players. There are some benefits associated with injuries such as free time to spend with families and to use as an opportunity for development, which ought to be illustrated to athletes. Undergoing rehabilitation can actually strengthen the injured area to a level higher than pre-injury. Why on earth do they play on?


Rugby players are real men compared to footballers; they don’t roll on the ground when they’re injured, they get to their feet, bloody and battered, and carry on. They receive praise for being tough and continuing through pain. Bert Trautmann played the FA Cup final with a broken neck. Jordan Rapana continued playing with a fractured skill that required 60 staples. Paul Wood ruptured his testicle during a game of rugby and eventually had to have it removed. When you encourage and praise men for being Real Men™ it discourages them from leaving the game with an injury which can have serious consequences. Think about concussions – they are a serious brain injury, but people shake them off as being a headache, the odd dizzy spell. We need to dismantle the idea that men are not allowed to be weak. There is more to the issue of playing through an injury, such as desire to help the team and a passion to play, but one has to question whether this mindset of being tough and carrying on is dangerous.