For a few minutes, John Jackson and his four-man bobsleigh crew stood in the
race leaders’ area and wondered whether they had done enough to make
sporting history by securing Britain’s fifth medal of the Sochi Games –
something no previous British team had ever managed at a Winter Olympics.
A blistering final run had put them in first position with five sleds
remaining, and when the next sled to go, Germany’s 2013 world champions,
were unable to improve on Britain’s time, a podium finish did not seem so
But their hopes of delivering a glorious finale to Britain’s best Winter Games
in 90 years were to be short-lived as the times of the four remaining sleds
were each lit up in green on the scoreboard to indicate they were faster.
It meant Jackson and his team-mates finished fifth overall, their aggregate
time for their four runs just 0.11sec outside the bronze medal position,
which went to American driver Steve Holcomb, the champion in Vancouver four
Oskar Melbardis’s Latvian crew took the silver with Russia’s Alexander Zubkov
delivering the host country’s 13th gold medal of the Games, and his second
following his victory in the two-man competition. Russian President Vladimir
Putin was among the crowd at the Sanki Sliding Centre to salute the former
taxi driver from Siberia.
The British crew – Jackson, Stuart Benson, Bruce Tasker and Joel Fearon – at
least had the satisfaction of posting the second quickest time in the field
on the second and fourth runs, though the damage to their medal aspirations
was done on their first run when nine rival sleds were faster.
It was unfortunate that their world ranking of 12 meant they were 12th on the
start-list for that opening run because it meant that by the time it was
their turn to slide, the ice had already been ripped up by the sleds that
had preceded them.
The reason for their lowly ranking was the havoc caused to their build-up by a
ruptured Achilles tendon suffered by Jackson last July, which at one point
had threatened his participation in Sochi.
In that context, a fifth place on Sunday to match the crew’s fifth at last
year’s World Championships in St Moritz was a testament to Jackson’s
resilience, determination and his knowledge of rehabilitation as a Royal
Marine physical training instructor. The recovery period for such a serious
injury is normally nine to 12 months.
“I had a small moment when I was unsure whether I was even going to be able to
make the Olympics, never mind being top five in the world,” said Jackson.
“Tomorrow is seven months post my operation, so just to be here on the Olympic
stage and standing 11 hundredths of a second away from a medal, I can’t be
“Seven months ago I wasn’t going to be here so it’s a testament to my
team-mates, who didn’t stop working and training and always believing that
we would be on the Olympic start-line.”
The consolation for British Bobsleigh is that fifth place in an Olympic final
is comfortably enough to secure the sport’s financial future for the next
Olympic cycle leading up to Pyeongchang in 2018.
The millions in Lottery funding that will now be triggered will ensure that it
will be able to extend its collaboration with McLaren Applied Technologies,
with a brand new McLaren-designed sled already at its testing phase.
The only question remains, who will drive it? At 36, Jackson has all but ruled
out another Olympic appearance, which means piloting duties are now likely
to pass to Tasker, who is to begin bobsleigh driving school in the near
But Lamin Deen, the driver of Britain’s second four-man bobsleigh, admitted he
also had designs on the main piloting role. On Sunday, he and his crew
Jackson’s fifth place was the best performance by a British bobsleigh crew
since Nagano 1998, providing further proof of how competitive the GB team
has been in Sochi across a whole range of sports, and not just the usual
bankers of skeleton and curling.
It is a Games that will be remembered not just for the four medals, the best
haul since 1924, but the number of near-misses, too.