By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Nov. 18, 2017 (Yonhap) -- By her own admission, British star Elise Christie was far from 100 percent when she arrived in Seoul for the International Skating Union (ISU) World Cup Short Track Speed Skating this week. But you wouldn't have known that if you saw her skate here on Saturday.
Despite feeling effects of a right thigh injury sustained during an earlier compeittion, Christie was still able to capture gold medal in the women's 500 meters on Saturday at Mokdong Ice Rink, beating her South Korean rival Choi Min-jeong by 0.119 second at 43.259.
Choi stayed in the back of the pack until the final stretch, but even her patented burst of speed couldn't get her past Christie, who took the lead after one lap into the 4.5-lap race and held on for the victory.
Christie, the 2017 world overall champion, said she hasn't been able to train fully over the past six to eight weeks. Christie said she didn't have high expectations of herself before this fourth and final leg of the World Cup, which is also the final qualifying event for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics in South Korea.
And after the 500m gold medal, Christie can't wait for the Winter Games in less than three months' time.
"I knew I wasn't going to be my best. But I came here and tried to give my best and see what I could do," Christie told Yonhap News Agency. "If I can win in this state, when I am not fully fit, then hopefully in two or three months, when I am fit, I can go out and win (the Olympic 500m title).
And that's bad news for the rest of the competition in the shortest race in short track, including Choi Min-jeong.
Choi is seen as South Korea's best hope at ending its Olympic gold medal drought in the women's 500m. South Korea leads all nations with 21 Olympic gold medals overall, but the women's 500m, which has been the domain of North Americans and Chinese, has proved elusive for the Koreans.
Choi has been dominant in the 1,500m and 1,000m, but come PyeongChang 2018, she'll likely have to battle Christie once again.
Christie struggled through the first three World Cups of the current season, winning just one bronze in the 1,000m in Budapest on Oct. 1. During the 2016-2017 World Cup season, Christie captured three gold medals in the 500m and added two more titles in the 1,000m.
Then at the 2017 world championships, Christie claimed the 1,000m and 1,500m gold medals en route to earning her first overall title of her career.
When healthy, there's little doubt the 27-year-old is a force to be reckoned with in short distances.
"My focus is on the 500 and 1,000, and the 1,500, not so much," she said. "I feel like the 1,500m is my bonus event. I just go and see what I can do."
Christie has made it to the quarterfinals in the 1,000m here, which will take place Sunday.
She added she particularly enjoys competing in South Korea. She also skated at last year's World Cup stop at Gangneung Ice Arena, the venue for Olympic short track next February, and captured two gold medals. She was at Mokdong Ice Rink for the 2016 world championships and finished third overall.
Christie said doing well at Gangneung last year was a confidence boost, and she always feeds off the eenrgy of the fans here.
"The crowd is always really good in Korea. I feel like I get a really, really good level of support from them," she said. "In England, short track is not a big sport. We don't get as much crowd. It's really nice to come here and race. I hear cheering when my name is called, and I really like that."
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