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Golden girls are back on the glory trail

NICOLA Minichiello set her sights on Olympic gold the moment the curtain fell on the 2006 Turin Games – but with her day of destiny looming the bobsleigh star is lucky to be seeing at all.

The 31-year-old former heptathlete, and partner Gillian Cooke, looked nailed on for a podium place in Vancouver after storming to World Championship gold in New York last February. Yet by December the duo’s plans were in tatters after Minichiello was diagnosed with retinitis and forced to withdraw from a World Cup race having lost 80 per cent of the vision in her left eye.

But despite competing in her past three World Cup races with less than 70 per cent vision and undergoing her third operation in as many months two weeks ago, Minichiello has vowed not to leave Canada empty handed.

“When we saw the specialist they diagnosed retinitis which potentially could be long term and permanent – so it was quite a scary time and we weren’t sure what was going to happen,” said Minichiello, who produced Britain’s greatest Olympic bobsleigh performance by finishing fifth in Italy.

“I had problems with my eye and at the end of November, the beginning of December I started to notice that I was getting a little bit tired and things were getting a little bit blurry.

“It got to the end of the race week in Italy and I had lost 80 per cent of sight in my left eye which is obviously a challenge two months before the start of the Olympics.

“I had two lots of laser surgery over Christmas and another on January 27 and by the time I get underway in Vancouver I should be back to normal. Ideally I would have just had the surgery and spent the time recovering but we needed to qualify for the Games so we got back on the ice.

“It hasn’t been ideal but we aren’t making any excuses now – when we’re on the ice we’re going for gold.”

Minichiello may be one of Britain’s biggest winter sports stars after competing at both Salt Lake City and Turin, but it is team-mate Cooke who has rapidly developed into an internet sensation. The 27-year-old brakewoman shot to YouTube fame after her suit split down her backside as she pushed off at the penultimate World Cup race in St Moritz.

But after shrugging off the split to help the GB sled claim seventh spot in Switzerland, Cooke insists her wardrobe malfunction merely underlines the duo’s Olympic credentials.

“You never know what is going to happen and my suit ripping was just one of those things,” said Cooke.

“We just carried on with the run and I think it is kind of testament to our professionalism that we still managed to get a good result and that we managed to put in a decent start and the drive down as well despite what happened. We all had a bit of a laugh at it and now we have to move on.

“Nicola and I have a relationship of trust, I feed off her experience and going down the track I have put a lot of trust in her to drive us down safely.

“She has put her trust in me that I know where I am on the track and that I am going to pull the brakes at the right time so that we don’t go shooting off into the wilderness.”

l Lloyds TSB, proud partner of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and supporter of Team GB in Vancouver 2010. Visit Lloyds-TSB.com/London2012