Whelbourne suffers spill after Olympic final thrill
February 11, 2014 05:53 am
Jack Whelbourne would have only an ice pack and a limp to show for his appearance in the Olympic short track speed skating final in Sochi.
Short track is a sport where thrills and spills are guaranteed and, in Whelbourne's case, it was a the latter. He had progressed through the 1500 metre heats in textbook style, setting a British record in qualifying and then finishing second in the semi-final behind favourite - and eventual gold medallist - Charles Hamelin.
For a while it seemed as though Great Britain would be celebrating an improbable second medal in Sochi just 24 hours after collecting their first. The Games were still just three days old. It was a hope which then skited away within a moment and splintered against the crash mats.
Whelbourne, a former world junior champion, had been mixing it with the best when he started to make his move in the closing laps. However, a loose block marking out the track was kicked under his skate and he went spinning into the matting. He would be left clutching his ankle in pain but x-rays later confirmed that he had not suffered a broken bone.
"I don't know what's happening with my ankle now but I can't have any complaints about my performance and reaching an Olympic final," said Whelbourne, without rancour. "I just started to get involved with the racing and when I made my move a block went under my feet and it's given me a bit of a twisted ankle.
"It's quite a common accident in the sport, you have seven or eight people in a race with close overtakes and unfortunately it's happened to me when I'm in my best form. I got a British record in the first race and I got a win under my belt, which is great for confidence.
"If I carry on skating like that there is no reason I can't do the same in the other two distances. I surprised myself and I just need to keep a level head now. I want to skate the other two distances. I'm definitely getting back on the ice, if I can."
History was also pulled from under Whelbourne as he fell, since Great Britain have not won a short track medal since 1994. That was when Nicky Gooch, now the team's coach, won 500m bronze in Lillehammer. However, hopes are high for the five-strong team in Sochi - with Elise Christie and former Olympic finalist Jon Eley also considered to be medal contenders.
The sight of Whelbourne crashing out yesterday was especially painful for Christie, his girlfriend. The Scot had earlier progressed through her 500m heat with ease, showing similar overtaking skills to compatriot Jackie Stewart as she navigated her way to the finish line unscathed and in first place.
She will return to action in Thursday's quarter-finals and will be braced for another competitive race, even without reigning champion and world record holder, Wang Meng. The Chinese has been ruled out by injury.
"This is a good chance to warm up and work on those weaknesses in a competition environment because the 500m is not so important to me. I'm very honest about using this a build into the other two events," said Christie, last year's world No.1 and the current European champion over 1000m.
"I had a lot more speed in me, I was being patient and just trying not to get knocked over. I've a lot more in the tank and there is a lot of racing to come. You've got to get the tactics right and I'm really pleased to nail it."
Christie has high hope here but team-mate Charlotte Gilmartin, making her Games debut, admits the experience of competing is what she wants to take from Sochi - with four years time her target.
However, she joined Christie in the quarter-finals with a second place in her 500m heat.
"I came here knowing this was about building for the next Olympics. There is not much expectation on me and I just want to put in my best performance and see what happens," she said.
"Usually at short track events we have loads of races every day. Here we have just one race and then your day is over and tomorrow is a day off.
"I usually build into a competition and you don't get that option at the Olympics. You give it all you've got and then you get to rest. It's quite good in some ways but it's totally new to me."
From James Toney, Sportsbeat, in Sochi
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