Small in stature, big in ambition, quietly-spoken and yet ready to make a noise, short-track speed skater Kathryn Thomson is a woman of contrasts in a sport of extremes.
The 22-year-old is happy to fly under the radar with all the focus at these Games on fellow Scot Elise Christie, the triple world champion with a point to prove. Christie made her debut in Vancouver eight years ago aged 19. Now she is a confident performer on and off the ice.
Charlotte Gilmartin, who completes the three-strong British women’s team, is another medal contender who speaks as quick as she skates
and then there is Thomson, happy to play the supporting role. For now.
“I’m here to learn everything I can, so in four years’ time I can come back and put down solid results,” she said. “It’s about soaking up all the experiences I can and feeling comfortable with being an Olympian. I’m not putting myself under too much pressure right now, that time will come but now it’s about having fun.”
Thomson is no stranger to the Olympic environment. As a 17-year-old she won silver at the European Youth Olympic Festival and was selected to carry Team GB’s flag in the closing ceremony. But that event, in the Romanian city of Brasov, is hardly comparable to the surroundings she woke up to today in PyeongChang’s athletes’ village.
First on ice training session at the Gangneung Ice Arena for GB Short Track #WeAreTheGreat pic.twitter.com/JzZWNzOKZj
— GB Short Track (@GB_ShortTrack) February 2, 2018
However, taking herself outside her comfort zone has been a big part of Thomson’s transition from talented junior, although she admitted struggling with homesickness when she left Scotland aged just 16 to relocate to Nottingham and train with the national team.
But it is a move that paid dividends, as she fine-honed her racing skills and tactics, learning the tricks of a trade in which sharp elbows are a pre-requisite. Now, Thomson, determined and diminutive in equal measure, is a star on the rise.
Short track is a sport where anything can, and usually does, happen. Skaters reach speeds of 30mph and become human dodgem cars as they career around a tiny track in seemingly ever decreasing circles.
“When I came down that was when Elise was starting to be quite successful but I didn’t consciously make the same decisions that she has,” added Thomson, who competes in the 500m, 1000m and 1500m and begins her campaign on Saturday.
“When I first moved down from Scotland I really struggled, it was quite daunting being in a big city and being quite young. I really wanted to stay in school and get my highers but it seemed like a once in a lifetime opportunity, which I had to grasp and see where it might take me.”
Thomson is keen to play down the quirk of geography that ties her career to Christie and be judged in her own right, with the next Games in Beijing the chance to prove her podium potential. However, watching the world champion in the days ahead will be invaluable.
“How she trains every day shows you the benchmark of the best in the world. That’s really inspirational,” added Thomson.
The sports keep coming with another going under the spotlight! 💡
— Team GB (@TeamGB) February 2, 2018
Here's all you need to know about short track speed skating 👇 #WeAreTheGreathttps://t.co/sW5b7qbfoT pic.twitter.com/Aavw1e7Lqu
Meanwhile, Christie admits she could not be feeling better about her form.
“I’m skating the best I’ve skated this season. I’m feeling good in all three distances,” she said. “But for me, the 500m and 1000m are the big medal focus, and I’ll go out and enjoy the 1500m and do my best.
“We’ve been training on the ice and getting used to it. It’s our second visit as we were here before for a World Cup event. The ice is pretty fast, so there could be some world records being broken in the next few weeks. Everyone is so supportive and animated here which makes racing fun and I’m excited to be getting out there again.”