Elise Christie ‘not naive any more’ as she targets Winter Olympics glory

• Speed skater’s 2014 Winter Games misery erased ‘at the worlds’
• ‘I wasn’t capable of getting three distances good then but am now’

Elise Christie has insisted she will not buckle under the pressure of chasing three medals at these Winter Olympics – or when she goes head-to-head with South Korea’s Choi Min-jeong and Shim Suk-hee in front of their vociferous home fans.

Christie, who is second favourite behind Choi for the 500m short track speed skating, which starts on Saturday morning, also rejected concerns that her nightmare in Sochi four years ago – when she was stripped of her 500m silver medal and disqualified in the 1500m and 1,000m – could still be playing on her mind.

“When I went into Sochi I was a naive, unexperienced skater but now I am the total opposite,” she told the Guardian. “I’ve got the experience, I’m not naive any more. And physically now I’m way above what I was then. I’m in the best years of my life.

“I wasn’t capable of getting all three distances good then but I am now. And as a person, I am much more confident and just so much happier.”

Much of that change in mindset comes from Christie’s brilliant gold performances in the 1,000m and 1500m at last year’s world championships, in which she won the overall title. In her mind, an Olympic medal in Pyeongchang would merely be the cherry on the cake.

“It’s definitely not about redemption for Sochi,” she said. “I feel like that came at the worlds. To win all three events was the most incredible feeling. I don’t show many emotions, happiness-wise, but after that I was screaming with joy.”

Could there be a similarly happy story in Pyeongchang? Christie has a strong chance in the 500m and is the favourite in the 1,000m. While she is an outsider in the 1500m behind Choi and Shim, who are expected to contest a Korean one-two, she believes she can be competitive over the longer distance, too.

“My best distance is the 1,000m, the last event of the competition, which I quite like because I feel like I’m saving my best until last,” she said. “While I don’t race the 1500m very often, it’s always the exciting one because I’m like: ‘What’s going to happen?’

“The 500m is just the fun one. I am really good at it but it is so unpredictable. It’s my favourite because you’re just trying to win that start and then go as fast as you can – racing, not thinking.”

Having trained in South Korea and got to know the country well, Christie is not concerned about going into the lion’s den to face Choi and Shim. “It’s a massive challenge,” she said. “Especially if there’s the two of them in a race but instead of feeling worried I just see it as: ‘Well, they have to beat me.’ I think they’re just as scared of me as I am of them.”

It would be one of the stories of the Games if Christie could put the pain of Sochi behind her. The disqualifications were bad enough but to make matters worse, she was also deluged with hateful tweets from South Korea, blaming her for Park Seung-hi taking only bronze. It was so bad Christie stayed off social media for two months.

This time round she will not be looking at Twitter – restricting herself to the odd photo on Instagram.

“I will be sending tweets to someone else to put up and not reading Twitter. But I will be on Instagram as it’s normally nice stuff. I feel there’s so many people in Britain that have my back and believe in me but if it went sour I would just delete it off my phone.”

If she does secure an Olympic medal in Pyeongchang, how will she celebrate? “It would be such a dream to do that and it would just mean so much to me to share that moment to everyone who has helped me get through the last few years because only a few people know how tough it has been. But I’ll probably just cry.”


Sean Ingle in Pyeongchang

The GuardianTramp

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