Fifty years after Tony Nash and Robin Dixon gave Great Britain their finest bobsleigh moment, John Jackson went agonisingly close to sealing another podium place at the Sanki Sliding Center on the slopes above Rosa Khutor.
Bobsleigh times are measured not in half centuries but in hundredths of a second, and just 0.11 separated Jackson and his four-man crew from a third-place finish which would have yielded a first four-man medal since the Nagano Games of 1998.
Jackson was second fastest in two of the four runs but was ultimately left too much to do by a first run which had left them in 10th position, partly due to their having to slide in 12th position as per their current world ranking.
Nevertheless Jackson’s fifth-place finish, exactly half a second off leader Alexander Zubkov, who added to the gold he won in the two-man event, represented an astonishing achievement for a man whose Olympic dream appeared to have been dashed when he snapped his Achilles in summer training.
Jackson’s powers of recuperation allowed him and his crew of Stuart Benson, Bruce Tasker and Joel Fearon not only to reach the Sochi start line, but to seriously threaten the established order with only silver medallist Oskars Melbardis of Latvia, bronze medallist Steven Holcomb of the United States, and a second Russian sled totalling faster times over the four runs.
Jackson said: “We were close and I don’t think we were disappointed. I think we’ve done Great Britain proud.
“I had a small moment when I was unsure whether I was even going to make the Olympics, never mind being in the top five in the world.
“(Today) is seven months post my operation, so just to be here on this stage and standing 0.11 away from a medal, I can’t be disappointed.
“Seven months ago I wasn’t going to be here so it’s testament to these boys here, who didn’t stop working and training and who always believed that we would be on the Olympic start-line.”
Thirty-six-year-old Jackson conceded he is likely to have competed at his last Olympics, with crew-man Bruce Tasker already being fast-tracked as pilot with the 2018 Pyeongchang Games in mind, but stopped short of indicating his immediate retirement.
“This is hopefully my last Games,” added Jackson. “I’d like to continue for another couple of years to try to keep the funding coming in to help the guys.
“We’re looking at developing Bruce as a driver and hopefully come 2018 he’ll be the guy who’ll be looking to take Great Britain forward. He’s got the potential, and if I’m still here in four years’ time something will have gone massively wrong with the development programme.”
Besides the ultimate goal of a medal, a place in the top six was crucial in terms of maintaining UK Sport funding, but it was testament both to Jackson’s consistent driving skills and his determination that his result left a lingering air of disappointment.
Emotional Great Britain bobsleigh performance director Gary Anderson said: “I am extremely proud of the boys because it has been four extremely hard years.
“For three of the runs we were in a medal position but that’s the draw and the way things go. It just shows that what we are doing here is working and that is testament to the whole team and all of the coaches who work with me.”
Yorkshire’s John Baines will ensure his Olympics debut stays with him forever after revealing the British No 2 four-man bobsleigh crew’s plan to get a Games tattoo following their 19th-place finish.
Baines had a busier than expected bow in Sochi as he acted as a late replacement for the injured Craig Pickering in the two-man event before coming back to join the four-man crew.
The 28-year-old finished 23rd with pilot Lamin Deen in the two-man and insisted that finish would be improved upon in the four-man with Deen, Ben Simons and Andrew Matthews.
“With the two-man, being on the back of the sled it is almost individual,” said Baines. “The driver does his thing and you just get in the back of that sled and hit it as hard as you can.
“When it comes to the four-man, the guys in the back become a brotherhood and really work together and push together. We are all there together.
“We have been shopping for an Olympic tattoo that we are going to get together as well – that will be a fun experience and it is something you have got to do.
“We always want to be within a tenth of the world’s best on the start. That was our aim and we met it.|”
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