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Ambitious Team GB plan for 'theatre of jeopardy'

Lizzie Yarnold is one of Team GB's main medal hopes in the Skeleton. Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images

Team GB head to the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang with ambitious targets, backed by double the funding they had four years ago but for all the planning and dreams of returning with a record haul of medals, they cannot control the 'theatre of jeopardy'.

The term refers to the uncontrollable aspects of high performance sport and a Games. Elise Christie, the short-track speed-skater, experienced these first-hand in Sochi as she travelled there in hope, but returned with three disqualifications. So the ambitious medal targets are placed within the context of sporting uncertainty.

"We know that our goals for any Games are always ambitious," said Chelsea Warr, UK Sport's Director of Performance. "However, this is a particularly stretching target given the high risks, low margins for error across a range of events we have medal opportunities in, and in some events more unpredictable outdoor terrains that our athletes will need to skilfully navigate."

At the Korean Cultural Centre in London, UK Sport confirmed its expectation that Team GB should return from PyeongChang with a record return of at least five medals from the Olympics team and a minimum of seven from their Paralympics contingent. These parameters stretch from a minimum of four and a maximum of 10 in the Olympics and six to 12 in the Paralympics.

On the face of it, these targets are ambitious given their best return was previously four (this could be increased to five for the four-man bobsleigh following the suspension of three Russian athletes) in Sochi. UK Sport is expecting a return of two to three medals in ski and snowboard, one to two in short-track, one medal in skeleton, one to two in curling, and potential medals in the bobsleigh and figure skating.

Goals set, nerves increasing, form, hopefully, peaking and all for a country which, as Dame Katherine Grainger emphasised, is not known as a winter sports nation. The 60 or so athletes' journey to PyeongChang is boosted by over double the funding the medal-hopefuls experienced in Sochi with UK Sport's investment totalling just over £32m for the last four-year cycle.

The likes of Christie, the two curling teams, skeleton duo Lizzie Yarnold and Laura Deas, skiers Andrew Musgrave, James Woods, Izzy Atkin and Dave Ryding, snowboarder Katie Ormerod and figure skating duo Nick Buckland and Penny Coomes are the athletes targeted for potential medals, but then underlying their hopes and dreams is the aforementioned 'theatre of jeopardy'.

On the walls of the Korean Culture Centre were images from Games past. In addition to the beaming smile of gold-medallist Yarnold, you also had the photograph of Christie positioned 65 degrees to the ice, in action in Sochi -- one who conquered the uncontrollables; another who fell into the icy pitfalls of sporting heartbreak.

The potential jeopardy awaiting the athletes is not restricted just to performance. The unpredictable weather was mentioned, so too injuries. Then there is the location of PyeongChang, just 80 km from the North Korea border. Constantly hovering over the Games is the spectre of doping. Distractions, variables aplenty.

"It does come down to fine margins and it is extremely competitive now. It's no picnic trying to win a medal at an Olympics," Team GB chef de mission Mike Hay said.

For the country, South Korea is hoping the Games will promote "peace and prosperity", which happens to be the etymology of PyeongChang, according to the Korean ambassador to the UK, Joonkook Hwang. He spoke of the confidence in security measures they had in place, and the hope recent developments -- with North Korea potentially competing at the Games -- will lead to better relations between the two countries.

"I'm long in the tooth and I remember Russia quite vividly, whether it was human rights issues, death threats, Chechnyan rebels, so this doesn't seem too bad," Hay said. "If the USA and North Korea calm down a little bit, then everything should pass pretty well.

"From the planning side of things, hopefully as we've been over nine or 10 times, we have got that under control. They're a youthful organising committee so they made a few mistakes along the way, but they're in really good shape now."

And then for Team GB it will be a balancing act between those tricky characters risk and reward. The hope is there will be plenty of "medal moments", as UK CEO Liz Nicholl calls them, leading to inspiration, pride. But always there will be jeopardy lurking round the corner. For all the funding, planning and ambition, there are some things which remain unknown.