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Winter Olympics: Cooke faces bumpy ride to clinch Sochi spot

The path to success, Gillian Cooke laments, rarely runs smooth.

Gillian Cooke is hoping to take part in two Games next year, the Winter Olympics and the Commonwealth Games   Photograph: Getty
Gillian Cooke is hoping to take part in two Games next year, the Winter Olympics and the Commonwealth Games Photograph: Getty

Since winning the world bobsleigh title four years ago, there have been fewer highs than lows, the mental scars from a 70mph crash that wrecked her hopes of an Olympic medal in Vancouver as damaging as the physical afflictions sustained when the sled she shared with Paula Walker overturned in Germany last winter, ruining what seemed set to be a promising campaign.

Now, as the Sochi Games loom into view, Cooke will begin the winter campaign as the brakewoman of GB3, the third-string side, less than ideal when it is likely that only two British crews will qualify for Russia. However, the 31-year-old is undaunted after returning from extensive testing in Latvia, insisting that she is capable of proving herself indispensable.

The Scot will be paired initially with former skeleton slider Victoria Olaoye when the GB team head to Calgary next month for warm-ups, before the World Cup races. Only then, she forecasts, will the real jostling for positions begin.

"I have to get the timing right," she says. "The British Olympic Association have set a target of top 14 in the world to go to the Games. For GB1 that's very achievable. For the other two sleds, it's stepping up.

"This year, the brakewoman pool is stronger than it has ever been. There'll be a real fight for places. It's about getting on the ice and getting results. People might be swapped round."

Cooke has been here before, fighting her way back into the frame to partner Walker two years ago following an aborted attempt to switch to becoming a driver. Since then, the focus has been on earning an Olympic invite and the opportunity for redemption.

In 2010, she and Nicola Minichiello were among the favourites. Failure proved devastating. It still is. "At the moment," Cooke says, "when I say I've been to an Olympics, I get asked: 'where did you finish?' I have to go, 'well actually I didn't.' Had I, or the sled, been in one piece for the final run, we'd have done it, just to make it. It's a sore point. Vancouver was great but I want to now have an Olympic experience I can look on with purely happy memories."

Cooke is intent on going to two Games in 2014. She plans to return to her athletics roots post-Sochi and pursue a long jump place in Scotland's team for the Commonwealth Games. Time, she knows, will not be on her side as she chases the qualification mark of 6.20 metres at the tail end of the indoor season.

"Technically I won't have done too much work but if I can ignore the jetlag and try to get the qualifying distance then, I'll have April and May to get another one outdoors," she said. "It will be windy here in Scotland so I'll have to find places where the conditions work."

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