Elise Christie at ease with weight of expectation after Sochi heartbreak

Elise Christie goes into her Winter Olympics campaign as a double world champion and world record holder, but is conscious of the unpredictable nature of her event. "I just need to get it right on the day, not get any bad luck and I'll be fine." David Davies/PA Images via Getty Images

GANGNEUNG, South Korea -- The smile momentarily drops away, as Great Britain's Elise Christie flits between her usual confident self, but then has a moment of self-realisation. "This is probably one of the most challenging, hard things I will have to do in my life," she tells ESPN, as she assesses the next two weeks or so awaiting her here in South Korea. Then the smile returns. "And I like that. I'm about challenges."

Short-track speedskater Christie has just finished a training run in the Gangneung Yeongdong training venue; performance director Stewart Laing waits, holding her black and gold skates, as she heads through the mixed zone. As her teammate Charlotte Gilmartin is interviewed, Christie tries to catch her eye off camera, pulling all manner of faces. Gilmartin just about manages to suppress the giggles.

Christie seems calm, but equally aware of the spotlight on her as current world champion and Team GB's main gold medal hope here in Pyeongchang. Then there's the back story of heartbreak, death threats and cyberbullying from Sochi 2014. What happened at the previous Winter Olympics is now dismissed as "nonsense", but it is a driving factor behind her goal to banish demons in the hotbed that is short-track speed skating.

The Sochi story saw Christie travel in hope but finish without a medal to her name; the aftermath and emotional strain saw her weigh up defecting from speed-skating to British Cycling. In the final of the 500 meters, she won silver but was demoted to eighth after being singled out as the guilty party for a collision earlier in the race with Arianna Fontana and Park Seung-Hi. That evening, death threats were directed towards her on her Twitter account, South Korean fans blaming her for taking out Park.

Two days later she raced in the 1,500. She was disqualified in the heats for not crossing the line by just one centimetre. Then came the 1,000. She collided with Jianrou Li in the semifinals and was disqualified.

Medal dreams thrown into the barriers, emotions left strewn across the ice.

Then, the rebuilding process.

Her coach, Nicky Gooch, sent her on a training camp back to South Korea. With grudges parked, she received a generous welcome and now the place has become one of her second homes. A series of silver and bronze medals followed in the 2015 and 2016 World Championships; she took the 500 world record in Salt Lake City in November 2016, with a time of 42.335 seconds. Then last year, she became the first British woman to win world gold -- a triumph which ended 23 years of an Asian monopoly -- following first-place finishes in both the 1,000 and 1,500.

But though she was all smiles when we spoke, she is her own fiercest critic. "I do not smile the whole time. Ask anyone on my team... I have this inside determination. I'm never happy with my performance. Even at the worlds, I came back thinking and moaning that I didn't win in all the distances. I'm very hard on myself and that's what keeps pushing me forwards. When people are being nice, because I'm so hard on myself, that motivates me too because I hear what they're saying, and I want to make them feel good."

Confidence restored, but as Laing considers, it has been quite some journey to the calm, collected individual testing out the ice ahead of the 2018 Games. "It's been like a rollercoaster but what she's done is she's built and built and built, year on year," Laing says. "What people forget is Elise has won international medals from before Sochi. Last year was a crowning moment in her career.

"She's on form and she has been for a number of years now."

Being at her third Games has not yet really hit home for Christie; the schedule means the usual three-day relentless hammering of event after event is elongated. The mental pace needs adjusting. "Emotions? Well they're up and down," Christie says. "One minute I don't feel I'm at the Olympics, I'm just getting on with my normal day-to-day life as I do at home. And then the next moment, I'm so excited to race."

She expects nerves -- something she does not normally deal with -- to kick in when she finally stands on the starting line on Saturday for the 500 heats. "If I'm in the heat box, I'm thinking about the what-ifs -- what if I win? What if someone knocks me over? That's going through my head.

"And then as soon as I get to the start line, all I can think about is going [starting]. I'm quite well known for doing a first false start because I'm so excited about going. So you might catch a few of them on me. I get so excited about starting the race. Win or lose on short-track, it's fun. I enjoy it. It does suck to lose, I'm not going to lie, but during the race it's still fun."

Christie's best event is the 1,000 but she will experience fierce competition from the Korean contingent. She talks of the animated crowd -- "they're booing, they're cheering... I want to challenge myself, show off almost, so it's great" -- and the positive reception she now receives as one of the faces of short-track. That's Christie in the moment, but then there's also the athlete who does appreciate the wider interest, and feeling of responsibility, for how she fares in Pyeongchang.

"I feel like coming back from the Games, coming back with a gold medal will give back something to everyone who has supported me from Sochi. I feel the pressure, but it's not 'pressure', it's that I want to give back. In terms of the British public, the media, everyone's been so supportive, everyone playing the National Lottery, the funding, I want to win that gold medal for them almost... as much as myself, of course... I don't see it as pressure, but I want to give back. This is hard, this won't be an easy process."

If all goes to plan and Christie is there on the start line in Tuesday evening's 500 final, she has the belief to win. Laing will have delivered his final words, having seen the journey she's been on. "I'll say to her... just do what she's capable of doing. We love her nonetheless, we all support her regardless of outcome. For me, I will be picking my words wisely to make sure there's no excess pressure or anything like that. We've wished her luck before sending her off to many races and she's come back successful from them."

If the 500 does not work out as hoped, she gets further chances in the 1,500 and then 1,000. She is doing it for others, those who have supported her, but she is also doing it for herself. Win gold and the smile will be there to stay.

"I'm faster than I was this time last year at the worlds; I'm stronger, I'm more confident," says Christie. "Last year I suffered a concussion going into the worlds and that affected my confidence a bit but I feel I'm in the best place I can be and I really like it here in Korea. Everything's positive; I just need to get it right on the day, not get any bad luck and I'll be fine."