Eurosport - Wed, 27 Jan 16:21:00 2010
For four years Nicola Minichiello has been setting her sights on gold - but at the moment she is thankful that she can see at all.
Minichiello and brakewoman Gillian Cooke became the first British women to claim the World Bobsleigh Championships title last February, and are among Great Britain's strongest hopes for a medal at the Winter Olympics next month.
In December, however, Minichiello was diagnosed with retinitis after complaints of blurry vision, and lost 80 per cent of her sight in her eye before undergoing two laser surgery operations.
Minichiello made her return to the World Cup circuit in early January in Koeniggsee, finishing a creditable eighth, but, as the British Olympic Association announced 43 of the 52 athletes heading to Vancouver next month, she admitted her left-eye vision is still only at 70 per cent.
The 31-year-old still requires a third operation to ensure her sight is fully functional by the time she and Cooke tackle the daunting Whistler track, but Minichiello revealed that all that only gold will do in Vancouver.
"It was a scary time," said Minichiello, who finished ninth at Turin 2006 alongside Jackie Davies.
"There was a serious worry about the long-term effects on my vision, let alone thoughts of going to the Olympics.
"But we're confident everything will be fine when we line up at Whistler. And we're not going there to do anything other than stand on top of the podium.
"When I've been to the Games before there was a real sense of just enjoying being an Olympian but it's different this time around.
"This is a business Olympics for us. Everything for four years has been geared towards winning gold in Vancouver.
"All the stepping stones and all the building blocks have all been part of the process for when it really matters and that is next month."
While preparations have been tumultuous for Minichiello of late, the Brit is expecting a far smoother ride before doing battle with the treacherous Whistler track.
The track in Whistler is the most demanding ever constructed: the 16-corner, 1450m track has the largest vertical drop in the world of 152m, seeing riders hit a top speed of 150kmh and produce a maximum of over 5Gs.
According to Minichiello however, it does draw comparisons with Lake Placid not only the site of her World Championships victory but also where the GB team will make their final adjustments before heading to Vancouver.
"To prepare at Lake Placid is ideal for us," she added. "It's the closest there is on the circuit to the Whistler track.
"We've only had about 42 hours practice at Whistler whereas Canada have had about 700 but we've been planning for four years and we know we'll be ready.
"We've shown that on our day we can compete with and beat all the alpine nations and that's what we intend to do again."
Luge World Cup Torino:
Men's 1st Run - Saturday 7.30am LIVE on British Eurosport 2 (Sky 411 / Virgin 525) and Eurosport Player.
Men's 2nd Run - Saturday 9.45am LIVE on British Eurosport 2 (Sky 411 / Virgin 525) and Eurosport Player.
Women's 1st Run - Sunday 8am LIVE on British Eurosport 2 (Sky 411 / Virgin 525) and Eurosport Player.
Women's 2nd Run - Sunday 11.30am LIVE on British Eurosport 2 (Sky 411 / Virgin 525) and Eurosport Player.