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.


The Winter Olympics & the NHL

We’re nearing the end of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and the hockey has not had the same shine. Despite attending since 1998, the commissioner of the National Hockey League, Gary Bettman, put a blanket ban on NHL players attending the 2018 Olympics. They argued that the league has no evidence that the Olympics have a positive impact on the business or the sport itself. They listed several, half-hearted reasons:


  • It’s not cost-effective to send players to the Winter Games
  • Star players are selected for the national team and if they get injured on international duty then it impacts their NHL team: Tavares, Zetterberg, Barkov, and Kopecky all suffered season-ending injuries in Sochi.
  • There’s a lukewarm reception for the NHL in Asia.
  • Player salaries are so good they are able to play for free at Olympics; there is an argument that this is a luxury they can only afford due to the league’s generosity.


  • Bye-weeks have been introduced in the last couple of seasons to provide a mid-season break
  • Halting the season for almost a month for the Olympics, disrupts a season; the summer break for the Stanley Cup Final teams then becomes very short.
  • There’s no football or baseball on to compete with at this time of year and voluntarily making the league redundant during this time is a bad business move.


  • NHL doesn’t receive the rights to photos or videos from Olympic competitions therefore Crosby’s Vancouver golden goal and Oshie’s shootout heroics were unable  to be shown.

Already International:

  • The NHL had it’s own World Cup a couple of years ago
  • They’ve hosted “China Games” this season in Shanghai and Beijing
  • They’ve also announced European games in Sweden, Finland, and Germany

On the surface, the majority of these reasons are plausible ones to not attend the Olympics, but when you break it down, it is all about the money. Maybe that’s the way of professional sports, but it’s greedy and dispirited.

In previous years, the International Olympic Committee has paid for the travel expenses, insurance, and accommodation, but refused in 2018. The International Ice Hockey Federation offered $20 million in support, but this was refused then the NHL decided the Olympics isn’t profitable to the league.

Injuries do happen – even to star players – but they happen in league games, they happen in World Cup of Hockey games, they happen in China Games, and they happen in European Games. How many players, at the end of a season, come forward with a list of body parts that need repairs? Imagine if soccer teams denied their players the chance to play in the World Cup because they might get injured. The soccer season is littered with international games; players being injured in a friendly international game is frustrating but representing your country is an athlete’s highest honour.

If there’s no football or baseball to watch, would you switch to hockey? Or would you switch to the Winter Olympics that happens once every four years? Commentary on the Winter Games is meant for people who do not know the sport so can provide an easy introduction to it. What better place to showcase star players who are the big draws to the game!

The season is lengthened when the Winter Games are included, but a new team, the Vegas Golden Knights, has entered the league which has also lengthened the season; Seattle have proposed a team for the league too and that will likely come into effect in the next few years. For the players who are not selected to play for their country, the Olympics provides the opportunity to rest up and have injuries seen to, putting them in better stead for the run up to the play offs. The majority of league players will not attend the Olympics and the majority will not make it to the Stanley Cup final.

Pre-season has been brought forwards, with the inclusion of the China Games and the World Cup of Hockey; these are unnecessary NHL money-spinners that lengthen the season too. They’ve also decided to include the European games as part of the regular league; why not make these players have a 10 hour flight to Europe, play a single game, and fly back to North America! That makes a world of sense… Furthermore, although they have argued that the Olympics isn’t growing the game, it’s more likely that they do not directly receive the profits of these games hence why they’re “growing it on their own term$”.

The Winter Olympics is once every four years!!! FOUR YEARS!! The arguments about costs/season disruption/injuries are ones that are faced once every four years.

Finally, professional athletes are being denied the right to live out a dream of competing at the Olympics. However, this has provided lower league players the opportunity to live that dream. With the absence of power-house NHL roster Canadian and American teams, could it be that there is a more level playing field (or hockey rink)? Certainly, the Germans will be happy with their semi-final win over Canada, but the 36 million Canadians might not be.

Without a doubt, the hockey has been great – but it could have been outstanding with NHL players. That’s not meant to discredit the athletes in South Korea as many college players will go onto professional leagues, lots of ex-NHLers are in the rosters, and numerous other players are in professional leagues around Europe: the bulk of the Olympic Athletes from Russia team is made up of SKA St Petersburg players from the Kontinental Hockey League. But it’s so exciting to watch the faces of each franchise line up together as one team.

The take home message: if Gary Bettman isn’t lining his pockets then he ain’t interested.

Gary Bettman at it again