Help or hindrance?

With the Winter Olympics just a month ago, we look at whether this weekend European Short Track Championships are will do more harm than good for GB's skaters...

By Sam Drury - Follow on Twitter.   Last Updated: 17/01/14 12:04pm

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Elise Christie and Charlotte Gilmartin will be hoping for European success but the Olympics remain the priority

Elise Christie and Charlotte Gilmartin will be hoping for European success but the Olympics remain the priority

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With the Winter Olympics little over a month away, the assumption would be that all those competing would be ironing out any problems, with the focus solely on the Games.

Well, in the case of Short Track Speed Skating at least, you'd be wrong.

"Although I'd like to medal in Dresden, I'm more focused on putting in some good tactical races and preparing myself for next month, because the Games are my main goal"
Elise Christie

This weekend the continent's top speed skaters will be in action at the ISU European Short Track Speed Skating Championships in Dresden.

Amongst them will be the British team, made up of nine athletes including the five who will also take part in Sochi, in February.

In many ways the timing of the event is far from ideal - both for the nations going to the Olympics as well as the organisers themselves with the value of the Championships undoubtedly lessened as skaters look set to use them as a chance to ensure they are in peak condition and fine-tune tactics rather than going all out to win.

Indeed, Team GB have confirmed as much with Performance Director Stuart Horsepool and star skater Elise Christie stressing that time on the ice ahead of Sochi is as important as winning medals in Germany.

"Everything we've been doing has been geared towards the Olympics and although I'd like to medal in Dresden, I'm more focused on putting in some good tactical races and preparing myself for next month, because the Games are my main goal." said Christie, a Sky Academy Sports Scholar.

Team GB Short Track Team for the Winter Olympics must first compete in Dresden this weekend

Horsepool was in agreement as he explained why his squad may not be firing on all cylinders at the Europeans.

"The athletes have put in a hard block of training since the last World Cup in November and they are eager to race this week," he said.

"It's less than a month until several of those competing at Dresden will represent Team GB in Sochi and their training has obviously been focused on the Games."

"Because of this we expect the squad to be at their physical peak in February, not at the European's this week, so the main aim in Dresden is for them to get race practice to allow them to hone their skills ahead of Sochi, to ensure that they are sharp and race ready come Games time."

With the sport's biggest event following so closely on the back on the European Championships, such comments are to be expected and Britain won't be the only ones taking such an approach.

However, with major championship medals up for grabs, the competition also provides the perfect chance to build momentum ahead of Sochi.

For Christie there is also the small matter of defending her 1000m and 1500m titles, won last year, whilst her team-mate Charlotte Gilmartin will be eyeing another medal after picking up bronze in the 1500m in 2013.

Italian Arianna Fontana (front): Will be one of Elise Christie's main competitors at both the European Championships and in Sochi

Arguably the biggest threat to both Christie and Gilmartin's medal hopes is the Italian Arianna Fontana, an Olympic bronze medallist over 500m and overall bronze medallist at the World Championships in Shanghai in 2012.

The Italian was also involved in a collision at the end of last year that saw Christie crash out at the semi-final stage of the 1500m at the Kolomna World Cup. Fortunately despite early concerns, in particular over the Scot, both skaters escaped relatively unharmed and the pair even managed to recover to medal in the 1000m the next day.

With Fontana and Christie both counted among the medal favourites for Sochi, the chance to gain a psychological advantage over one another just a matter of weeks before the Games is something both athletes will be keen to do.

The issue remains, however, that as much as Europe's top skaters will want to be on the podium over the weekend, the medals that they really want aren't up for grabs until next month.

Whether they consider the reward of a European medal and the confidence it would bring before the Games worth the risk of potential injury or peaking too soon is another question.

Simply put, for Great Britain and their rivals, it remains to be seen whether the European Championships will be a help or a hindrance before next month's Olympics.

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