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Sochi Winter Olympics 2014: GB bobsleigh out to end 50 year drought

John Jackson drives Great Britain's four-man bobsleigh team in a training run at the Sochi

Cool runnings: John Jackson drives Great Britain’s four-man bobsleigh team in a training run Photo: GETTY IMAGES

When British Bobsleigh came up with the name “Project 50” for its Sochi
programme four years ago, it seemed that hubris had triumphed over common

The catchy title was in reference to the last time Britain won a Winter
bobsleigh gold medal – the two-man victory by Tony Nash and
Robin Dixon at the Innsbruck Games in 1964.

On Sunday, when the four-man final concludes, it will be 50 years to the day
since the duo were crowned champions, and so the idea was hatched to
rekindle past glories by winning an Olympic medal on the anniversary.

A nice idea, but with a catch. A couple of months before Project 50 was
launched, Britain’s bobsleigh performance had hit rock bottom when both the
men’s two-man and four-man sleds crashed on the first day of competition at
the Vancouver Games. Reaching an Olympic podium seemed an impossible dream.

But, as racing gets under way on Saturday, a remarkable story appears to be
unfolding at the Sanki Sliding Centre. In the six official training runs on
the Olympic ice track, Britain’s four-man sled has picked up a first, a
second and two thirds.

If the crew can maintain that kind of form over four more runs, then there
could be a final glorious twist to these historic Games for Team GB – a
medal in of the most iconic winter disciplines of all.

The transformation from Olympic casualties to genuine podium contenders in
less than four years is down to a combination of brain and brawn, backed by
around £500,000 of investment.

The brain comes from McLaren Applied Technologies, a division of the Formula
One giant, which signed a deal with British Bobsleigh in 2010 to provide
access to the company’s cutting-edge testing facilities and scientific

One of its engineers, James Roche, has spent the winter seconded to the GB
bobsleigh team. He is the scientist who co-designed the skeleton sled that
carried Lizzy Yarnold, his girlfriend, to Olympic glory last week and he was
also responsible for Amy Williams’s gold medal-winning sled in Vancouver.

The brawn comes in the shape of experienced pilot John Jackson, a Royal Marine
physical training instructor with 17½ years’ service under his belt, and
three brakemen recruited from track and field to provide the explosive power
and athleticism required to get the sled moving at the start.

The career path from running track to ice track has been a well-trodden one
over the years, though converts to bobsleigh have tended to be in the
twilight of their athletics careers.

The difference this time is that the three men in the back of Jackson’s sled
are all in the prime of their sprinting lives, having been poached from
athletics as part of a deliberate recruitment policy by British Bobsleigh to
target young talent.

One of them, Joel Fearon, was ranked fifth in Britain in the 100 metres last
year with a superfast time of 10.10 sec that earned him a place in the 4 x 
100m relay squad at the World Athletics Championships in Moscow.

Alongside him are Bruce Tasker, a former Welsh 200m champion, and Stuart
Benson, a Scottish 200m and indoor 60m gold medallist.

Olympic relay sprinter Craig Pickering was also brought into the programme a
year ago in the search for extra speed, though he struggled with some of the
technical intricacies and was moved into Britain’s second sled before
picking up a back injury that ruled him out of the Games.

Judging by the statistics from official training, the talent-scouting
programme has worked to perfection. The British sled has posted the quickest
start time in Sochi on all six trainings runs.

With such impressive consistency, Britain’s medal chances would appear to
depend purely on whether Jackson can deliver four clean drives.

The 36-year-old was the driver of both GB sleds that crashed in Vancouver, but
four years on he has matured into one of the most respected pilots on the
circuit. His fifth place at last year’s World Championships in St Moritz, a
silver at this season’s World Cup competition in Lake Placid and another
silver in the European Championship showed how much he has grown into the

Back to full fitness after rupturing his Achilles’ tendon in July, Jackson
says he has learnt from the disaster in Vancouver and is ready to make
amends with a medal.

A golden one to match the triumph of Nash and Dixon half a century ago may be
a bit too much to ask but, then again, these are history-making Games for

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Sochi Winter Olympics 2014: GB bobsleigh out to end 50 year drought

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