Sochi 2014: GB short-track relay Olympic hopes hit

Britain's bid to field two short-track speed skating relay teams at the Winter Olympics for the first time faltered at their opening qualifier in Turin.

GB's men and women were both knocked out in the heats as they look to reach the eight-team line-up for Sochi 2014.

"The relay didn't go according to plan, but we're not out of it," said British performance director Stuart Horsepool.

GB women's Alex Stanley said: "We made mistakes, which is to be expected. We are the least-experienced team here."

How short-track skating works

Short-track involves four to six skaters racing each other in laps of a standard ice rink, in a sport which shares similarities with track cycling's keirin and ski cross. Competitors must progress through knockout rounds into the final, then the first over the line wins.

Outright speed is no guarantee of winning a race - short-track is an intensely strategic sport where positioning is vital, making sure you are in the right place to seize split-second opportunities as you dash for the line, without exhausting yourself at the front for the whole race.

Collisions are fairly common. You can be disqualified for impeding a rival or unsportsmanlike conduct, or automatically advanced to the next round if you were unfairly disadvantaged in your race.

Elise Christie races in all three individual events - the 500m, 1000m (in which she has topped the world rankings and won a world bronze medal) and 1500m.

That translates into 4.5 laps for the 500m, nine laps for the 1000m and 13.5 laps for the 1500m. Those distances are the same for men, who also race in a 5000m (45-lap) relay, while there is a 3000m (27-lap) relay for women.

The men's relay team have occasionally won medals at World Cup level, but Britain has never managed to qualify a women's team for the Winter Olympics.

Qualifying concludes in Kolomna, Russia, next weekend - presenting the relay teams with one last chance to reach Sochi.

Both teams finished ninth in Turin, with a top-eight finish over the two weeks needed to reach the Games.

"It was a disappointing night. We skated quite well in the first round and didn't quite execute in the next round," said Jon Eley, a veteran of two Winter Olympics and member of the GB men's squad.

"I don't think anything's changed. It's a two-weekend thing - it's a good job it's not just this weekend, but we've got to improve for next weekend and come out fighting."

Stanley added: "Other teams have suffered this weekend as well - a few good teams haven't made it through. It's still up for grabs."

Both Elise Christie and Jack Whelbourne have reached the weekend's quarter-finals in the sport's three individual distances - 500m, 1000m and 1500m - which is enough to all but assure Britain of at least one berth in those disciplines.

Paul Stanley and Eley have also reached the last 16 in the men's 500m and 1000m, respectively.

But qualifying in the relay opens up extra places at the Games which otherwise will not be available to the team.

"The relay is the one that gets the ticket to the Games for a lot of athletes in the team," said Horsepool.

The Turin qualifier, which doubles as the third World Cup event of the season, concludes with finals on Saturday and Sunday.