WINTER OLYMPICS: Paula's race against time
PAULA Walker confesses she is still waiting to click with Sochi’s Olympic bobsleigh track – and says she is running out of time.
The former world junior champion, from Trowbridge, will have six official practice runs at the Sanki Sliding Center before she joins forces with brakewoman Bex Wilson when the competition starts for real on Tuesday.
Four years ago, on her Olympic debut, she finished 11th with all the expectations on teammate Nicola Minichiello, who arrived at the Games as the reigning world champion.
This time Walker is Great Britain’s only woman driver in Sochi and has been given a stiff target with a top-eight finish to secure future funding, which could in turn also decide her plans in the sport.
“If I’m honest the track has not clicked with me yet and I’m hoping that six practice runs will be enough to get the feeling I need for it,” said Walker, pictured right.
“I was at the test event here last year, but I really struggled. I’m working hard to tell myself everything will be okay because normally I’m a fast learner.
“Vancouver was a very hard track, but I quickly mastered it. I need to find the inner vibe you need to get accustomed to a track.
“We’ve got a target of top eight, but on this track it’s going to be tough. My last runs here were a bit of a wild ride but until I’ve done my practice runs I’ve no realistic placement for myself.”
British Bobsleigh held an extensive selection process to decide who would sit behind Walker in Sochi, with Kelly Denyer and former world champion Gillian Cooke among those trailed before Wilson, 22, was given the nod.
“Bex has got great trust in me and to know she’s the best physically in our team and has the faith in me to keep her safe, really puts me in a positive frame of mind,” added Walker, who nicknames her sled Morris.
“I don’t think I have to prove myself to her, I know she’s got my back no matter what happens and I’m chuffed to have her on my team.
“It would have been nice to be settled, but I also wanted to know who was going to be the best for my team and that’s why we tried out so many different combinations.
“Gillian is a fantastic athlete and was with me for two years and it was always going to be hard to get her out of that seat.
“I wanted to make sure that Bex was absolutely the best person and we gave everyone a fair opportunity because it’s the Olympics and everyone deserved a shot to prove themselves.”
Walker, 27, is keeping her options open about her post-Games plans – though they say it takes ten years to become a world-class driver and the 2018 Games would mark a decade in the sport.
“I don’t know whether my knees can hang out,” she added. “I’m not thinking of 2018, I don’t know whether I would last physically until then, but I certainly can’t rule it out.
“If I’m seeking to do better than here I might get drawn in again. If I’m happy with how I do, then I might think differently.”
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