Athletics: Cooke set to drive the Olympic bob

Edinburgh's champion long jumper Gillian Cooke, who answered an advert on Facebook to become a brakewoman for ace bobsleigh driver Nicola Minichiello and 18 months later shared in the 2009 World title, is taking a dramatic new career gamble in her quest for Olympic glory.

Again offered the position of brakewoman behind Minichiello in GBR 1, the lead bob for the coming winter's European and American Cup circuit, after coming out top in recent trials in Sigulda, Latvia, the 28-year-old Edinburgh woman has turned it down because she wants to become a driver.

It means Cooke will have to go through the entire season unfunded in the second British bob GBR2, but she is undaunted: "It's a new challenge, I want to be a driver and I want to win a medal in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi," declared the multi-talented Watsonian who represented Scotland in the pole vault in the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games and the long jump in Melbourne in 2006.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"There's no funding for driver development and as I've no previous form I'll have to go through the entire season self-funded, which will probably cost me between 10,000 and 12,000, but that's the direction I want my career to take."

Grateful to the Army for providing a bobsleigh and to several firms for sponsorship in kind, including Dare2Be (clothing), KBC (helmets) and 3M (sandpaper), Cooke would ideally like to find a sponsor to cover at least some of her travel and other costs.

All too aware of the perils of her new challenge, having spent most of 2010 "rehabbing" from a serious hip injury she sustained when she and Minichiello crashed at the Vancouver Olympics in February, Cooke had recovered sufficiently by late summer to help out her club Edinburgh AC in the British League, though nowhere near the fitness level she attained when setting a Scottish Indoor long jump record of 6.43 metres.

But by the time a new group of budding brakewomen were facing the demanding physical tests for this winter's GB teams Cooke was again leading the pack and setting new (personal bests).

Now, however, she faces new tests and this weekend is in Austria learning to negotiate the tricky bends of one of the World's most daunting descents at speeds of 80mph.

Her former athletics coach John Scott, who still advises Cooke on her fitness, is confident she will succeed: "Gillian's safely driven down a few times and now she's got to learn to do it after jumping on. She'll get there."