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GB bob stars undaunted by challenges

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Eleanor Oldroyd Eleanor Oldroyd | 23:41 UK time, Sunday, 21 February 2010

I've managed to find some interesting locations for the interviews I've done for 5 live's Winter Olympics coverage.

Near the Big Brother house for Torvill and Dean. In a café slap bang in the centre of Whistler for Chemmy Alcott. And just the other day, we had a British gold medallist sitting on our sofa - Amy Williams popped in to talk to 5 live Sport's Mark Pougatch down the line from the house I'm sharing with BBC TV's Clare Balding.

And for World Champions Nicola Minichiello and Gillian Cooke, Team GB's great hopes in the women's bobsleigh?

Nicola Minichiello and Gillian Cooke
Nicola Minichiello and Gillian Cooke ready themselves for action. Photograph: PA
Beside the portaloos behind the media tent at the Whistler Sliding Centre. Sorry about that, guys.

Inside the media tent, there was a thunderous air conditioning system which no-one could switch off. Just outside it, the lorries which carry the sliders and their sleds to the top of the course rumbled deafeningly past at regular intervals.

Not ideal for a radio chat. But it was quiet by the loos, and Nicola and Gillian were undaunted by the insalubrious surroundings I'd taken them to.

They've faced much worse challenges this season, after all.

Back in November in Italy, driver Nicola realised that she was losing the sight in one eye. She was suffering from a condition called central serous retinopathy, which leaks fluid into the retina and causes blurred vision.

The pair had to miss two World Cup races this season. But after three courses of laser surgery, Minichiello's feeling great and is ready to race.

"My vision is right back and actually better than most people have. To be honest, you're going so fast on this track you can't see at the bottom of the course anyway."

It was a bit of an unnerving experience for Gillian, too, to realise that the person responsible for getting her down safely suddenly couldn't see very well.

"I noticed a few more bumps than usual in Cesena!", she laughs. "But we had to pull together as a team - it was just a curve ball we'd been thrown. So we came back to the UK and it gave us a little bit of extra time to do some physical training over the Christmas period which other teams didn't have - you've got to look at the positives."

Gillian's had to develop a wry sense of humour over the last couple of months, after the notorious splitting race suit which turned her into a YouTube superstar. But she'd talked about it so much - including to us on more than one occasion - I thought I'd spare her the ordeal of having to run through the whole tale again.

After all, these are serious athletes going about the serious business of winning an Olympic medal.

And after the euphoria of Amy Williams' gold medal in the skeleton on Friday, the British focus in week two will be very much on Minichiello and Cooke and their bid for gold. The first of the competition's heats gets underway at 0100 GMT on Wednesday.

"This has been a four year build up to these two days and four runs," says Nicola. "I'm really confident it's going to come together."

From my conversations over the last week with lugers and skeleton sliders, I've worked out that this is a track you either love or hate.

So much has been written about the tragedy which overshadowed the start of the games. No-one who spent any time at the sliding centre during the past couple of weeks will forget Nodar Kumaritashvili.

But then the skeleton competition passed off without serious mishap, and even after they crashed during the first run of the two man bobsleigh, Britain's sledders were quick to point out that it was just one of those things that happens in the sport.

As Dan Money put it, "This is bobsleigh, not ballet dancing."

And Nicola is relishing the prospect of taking it on.

"It's a fantastic track - the fastest in the world. It has high G's, it really is going to tell who is the ultimate slider - my favourite track, absolutely."

Minichiello and Cooke were there on Friday night to hug Amy Williams after her skeleton success, and perhaps some of that golden gloss could rub off on them.

The track designer at Whistler also created the course where they won their World title last year, Lake Placid. Nicola believes the omens are good.

"They're the two most similar tracks on the circuit, and we've just been to a holding camp at Lake Placid. We were as fast there as we were going into the World Championships. We know everything is coming together - we can't wait to put it into practice here."

Listen to Eleanor's interview with Nicola Minichiello and Gillian Cooke from Monday's 5 live Sport on iPlayer.



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