Nicola Minichiello aims to change 'old-school' bobsleigh attitudes

By Nick HopeBBC Olympic sports reporter
Nicola Minichiello
Minichiello who became Great Britain's first-ever Bobsleigh world champion in 2009 quit the sport two years later, will now join the Dutch coaching setup after a period working for for the International Bobsleigh Federation

Great Britain's former world bobsleigh champion Nicola Minichiello has made history by becoming the first female head of performance for a Winter Olympic sports organisation.

The 34-year-old, who retired from competition last year, hopes joining the Netherlands national set-up for their Sochi 2014 campaign, will aid equality in the sport.

"The Dutch are a very forward thinking nation," Minichiello told BBC Sport.

"To appoint a female in this position is unheard of, but it's very exciting.

"Bobsleigh is extremely male dominated, very old-school with a military mindset and it's been a battle for equality."

Minichiello, a former-heptathlete, who used to coach European champion Jessica Ennis, added; "the whole way through [my career] it's been a constant battle [with equality] and I know going straight out onto the tour I'm going to have to work twice as hard, three-times as hard, but hopefully in the future that will change."

The British Bobsleigh team recently appointed former Olympic-medal winning Swiss team-leader Dominik Scherrer as their new head technical coach.

Minichiello, from Sheffield, admits the role would have been "interesting" but she did not apply for the post and GB performance director Gary Anderson says he fully supports the move made by his former bobsleigh driver.

"It is great that a former athlete has taken to coaching, we need to encourage this as we cannot afford for potential coaches to drift away from the sport," he said.

She competed at the last three Winter Olympics and won silver at the 2005 World Championships before claming gold alongside Gillian Cooke four years later in Lake Placid, New York.

But at the 2010 Vancouver Games, Minichiello was left "absolutely devastated" when the pair crashed out on the third of four runs. Minichiello had knee surgery and lost her place as Britain's number one driver to rising star Paula Walker, prompting her retirement from competition last year.

Since then Minichiello has worked with the International Bobsleigh Federation,external-link British women's handball and even with Sheffield United,external-link as a performance consultant during their 2011 pre-season preparations.

She will now aim to combine all of those skills by leading a programme across all bobsleigh, skeleton and luge disciplines.

"They've got a really great development structure and also a lot of talent within the senior squad, but they've just not quite had that joined up connective thinking before.

"I'll be looking at joining up all the different elements of performance such as the psychological and physical aspects, which will really suit my strengths."

The Dutch four-man bobsleigh team withdrew from competing at the 2010 Games amid safety concerns following the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili during training at the Whistler Sliding Centre.

Since then the men have achieved a top-four finish in the World Championships. At the inaugural 2012 Winter Youth Olympicsexternal-link in Innsbruck, the Netherlands won gold and bronze medals, furthering Minichiello's belief they can challenge for honours in Russia.

"One day I'd certainly like to work within the UK, whether that's with bobsleigh or a different sport who knows? But I'm right-now I'm concentrating on the Dutch.

"I think they can definitely medal [in Sochi], there's a huge opportunity there," concluded Minichiello.