PAULA Walker may have qualified for the Vancouver Games by the skin of her teeth – but the Blackburn bobsleigh driver has vowed to use her Olympic debut to muscle in on the sport’s inner circle.
The 23-year-old former St Bede’s High School pupil and partner Kelly Thomas qualified GB’s second sled for Canada by pipping Russia to tenth spot in the world rankings – crucially finishing 0.12 seconds ahead in last year’s final World Cup event.
World champion Nicola Minichiello – together with breakwoman Gillian Cooke – qualified GB’s first sled, after battling back from losing 80 per cent vision in her left eye to qualify for her third Games.
But despite sitting second on the Team GB billing in Canada, Walker insists she isn’t planning on playing second fiddle to her domestic rival when the action gets underway in Vancouver.
“It is great to be joining Nicola and Gillian in Vancouver – we know them well and we will go out on the track and compete against them and there will a bit of rivalry within that.” said Walker.
“We wish Nicola and Gillian every success, they aren’t world champions for nothing and hopefully she will be bringing the medals home and hopefully we can be competitive behind her.
“As a driver I have set myself the target of getting in the top 10 – I know that that is a tough expectation of myself but with Kelly behind me I am confident that it is achievable.
“Moving forward we want to carry the momentum into the next four years.”
The 1450m track in Whistler is the most demanding ever constructed for a Winter Games, with a 152m vertical drop, 16 corners and a top speed of 150km/h.
And having not set foot in a bobsleigh until after the 2006 Turin Olympics, Walker admits she’ll be calling on every aspect of her education to ensure her rapid rise doesn’t come to a shuddering halt in Canada.
“I have never been to an Olympics and it is going to be an overwhelming experience and I need to keep my head on so that I get down the track in one piece,” added Walker.
“We have been to Whistler twice and in total have spent about three weeks there which equates to around about 25 to 30 runs.”
l Lloyds TSB, proud partner of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and supporter of Team GB on their journey to Vancouver 2010. For more information, visit LloydsTSB.com/London2012.