Fifth-place finish a reason to cheer for Jackson and co

24 February 2014 / 10:39

A former Siberian taxi driver trundled his sled down the bobsleigh track in Sochi yesterday to secure Russia's 13th and final Olympic gold, meaning they topped the medal table and had plenty of silverware to show for their Games.

But just a blink of an eye behind, in a tin can nicknamed the meatwagon, Great Britain's John Jackson nearly delivered a memorable finale to what must be considered Great Britain's most successful ever Winter Olympics.

Jackson – with a crew including Scot Stuart Benson, Bruce Tasker and Joel Fearon – finished fifth in the men's four-man bobsleigh, his time over four runs just 0.11 seconds off a medal, Britain's best result in the event since bronze in 1998.

The historians will rightly say that Great Britain's return of one gold, one silver and two bronzes equals their previous best performance, 90 years ago.

However, comparing Chamonix 1924 to Sochi 2014 is like comparing slopestyle to figure skating. Only 376 athletes attended those Games, just 16 were women, and 20 nations lined up. In Sochi 2,871 arrived from 88 nations, 26 of which won medals, a new record for the winter Games.

Jackson's fifth was arguably one of the best British performances here, a real triumph of spirit and determination over adversity.

Exactly seven months ago he ruptured his Achilles in training, an injury that doctors initially thought had ended his career.

However, Scottish surgeon Professor Gordon Mackay performed pioneering surgery to give him a chance and Team GB officials claim they've never seen an athlete work harder to get fit.

But in the end the injury perhaps proved decisive. Because Jackson struggled to pick up World Cup points in the early races of the season, the British sled had a low start draw for the opening run in Sochi, meaning they needed to navigate the worst of the ice conditions.

They ranked tenth but after that pulled themselves up with a second, fifth and second in their concluding runs, underlining their undoubted podium potential.

Russia's Alexander Zubkov was a class apart, with 600 runs down to track compared to Jackson's 50, but Latvia's Oskars Melbardis and American Steven Holcomb were certainly within his range and it is worth remembering Britain's team had to self-fund the first two years of this Olympic cycle.

"We’re close. I don’t think we’re disappointed," said Jackson. "We’ve put in a good result and, considering the last few months, it's a great result.

"We were up there with the fastest starters in the world and we’ve had four runs that are within five hundredths of each other, so we were consistent. Sometimes consistency is enough, but it just wasn’t quite enough.

"I think we’ve done Great Britain proud and I'm proud of this team, who never stopped working, training or believing they would be on the Olympic startline.

"There was a small moment when I thought I would never be here, let alone finish top five in the world."

Jackson will continue in the sport in the short term but claims this will be his final Olympics - and has backed Tasker to take over driving duties in Pyeongchang.

And the top-five finish will be enough to secure future funding, the criteria of showing podium potential emphatically underlined here at the Sanki Sliding Center. Jackson and crew weren't just competing for themselves but the future of their team.

"If I'm still here driving in four years then something will have gone massively wrong with our development programme," added Jackson.

"My hope is I can keep driving for another couple of years to keep the funding coming in and give the other guys the chance to develop as drivers."

Jackson - who also finished fifth at last year's World Championships - certainly bares no resemblance to the athlete who left Vancouver four years ago, with only bumps and bruises to show for his efforts after two heavy crashes.

"You can see the difference between Vancouver and Sochi, we're a respected and world-class team now, everyone is watching us and worrying what we're going to do," he added.

"The medal target was always going to be 2018 and we've come incredibly close to achieving that four years early. I don't see any reason why Great Britain can't be consistently hunting medals over the next four years."

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