It was a good day in the east end of the Scottish capital for the great all-rounder in action in the UK Women's League Premier Division match. She was a long-jump winner at the track where the Commonwealth Games of 1970 and 1986 were held – a small step towards the giant leap that could land her a place in the record books 13 months hence at Glasgow 2014.
It was just a shame that the great track-and-field all-rounder, Mrs Jessica Ennis-Hill, was not at Meadowbank too. Some 1,500 folk had bought tickets to see the Olympic heptathlon champion take part in her first competition since Super Saturday at London 2012, only for the recently spliced Ennis-Hill to withdraw in midweek because of a tight Achilles tendon. Her much-anticipated return to action has been rescheduled for the Bislett Games in Oslo on Thursday.
In the absence of the British golden girl of the London Olympics, Gillian Cooke took the opportunity to step out of the shadows and show a glimpse of her own remarkable sporting versatility. The 30-year-old Edinburgh native competed for Scotland as a pole vaulter at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester and in the long jump at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Manchester. She has also represented Great Britain at the Winter Olympics.
Indeed, at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver she was partnered in the two-woman bobsleigh by the very person who introduced Jessica Ennis, as she was at the time, to track and field. Nicola Minichiello was the future Ennis-Hill's first coach at the City of Sheffield Athletics Club before concentrating on her own burgeoning sporting career and handing over nurturing duties to her then husband, Toni.
Like Ennis-Hill, Cooke and Nicola Minichiello know what it's like to conquer the sports world; at the 2009 World Championships in Lake Placid they struck gold.
Four years on, with Minichiello in retirement and Paula Walker as her new driver, Cooke is preparing for a shot at Winter Olympic glory at the 2014 Games at Sochi next February. She is also aiming to make the Scottish team for those home Commonwealth Games in Glasgow next summer, hence her appearance in the white-and-blue vest of Edinburgh Athletics Club yesterday.
Cooke holds the Scottish indoor record in the long jump, with 6.43m, but due to bobsleigh commitments she last competed in the discipline 12 months ago. For that reason she was entered in the B-string event, making way for her clubmate Sarah Warnock, who duly won the A-string competition with a leap of 6.11m.
Cooke then made it an Edinburgh double, taking victory in the B competition with a last-round effort of 5.94m. "I would have liked to jump 6m, but I'll take that," she said. "My main priority is Sochi in February and I'm in fairly hard training down in Bath for that now, so I'm jumping not as sharp as the rest of the girls who are peaking for the summer athletics season. I'd like to get the Commonwealth qualifying standard this summer, to take the pressure off for next year."
Cooke needs a distance of 6.20m to qualify for the Scottish team for Glasgow 2014, and achieve the unique distinction of contesting a Winter Olympics and a Commonwealth Games in the same year.
"It's such a strange combination, I suppose," she said. "It is something I was aiming to do in 2010 but I injured myself badly at the Winter Olympics and missed the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. That put me out for 18 months."
Cooke suffered spinal damage when she and Minichiello crashed on their final run in Vancouver, on the track where the Georgian Nodar Kumaritashvili lost his life on the eve of the 2010 Games. She aggravated the same problem in a crash with Walker in January this year.
"That's the main challenge of being able to do the Commonwealth Games: coming back off the bobsleigh season healthy," Cooke pondered. "You do take bumps and bashes along the way."
With that, the great Caledonian all-rounder was off to show yet another string to her considerable sporting bow – filling in for her club in the javelin.
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- Athletics, Track And Field
- Commonwealth Games
- Edinburgh, Scotland
- Long Jump
- Winter Olympics