County Durham bobsleigh driver targets Winter Olympic medal in Sochi

The Northern Echo: SOCHI BOUND: Barnard Castle bobsleigh driver John Jackson is targeting a Winter Olympic medal in Sochi SOCHI BOUND: Barnard Castle bobsleigh driver John Jackson is targeting a Winter Olympic medal in Sochi

COUNTY DURHAM’S John Jackson is hoping to win Great Britain’s first bobsleigh medal for 16 years when he competes in the four-man competition at next month’s Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Jackson, who was born in Bishop Auckland and raised in Barnard Castle before relocating to the South-West after joining the military, will drive the GB1 bob in Sochi, with John Baines, who was born in Middlesbrough and now lives in Topcliffe, near Thirsk, competing in GB2.

The pair join North Shields figure skater Matt Parr and biathletes Lee Jackson and Amanda Lightfoot, who are from Stockton and South Shields respectively, to form a five-strong North-East contingent in the British squad that will compete in Sochi.

Jackson, who is a sergeant in the Royal Marines, is the only realistic medal contender, despite having only just completed a rushed recovery from Achilles surgery in July.

He piloted Britain’s leading four-man bob to a silver medal at the Lake Placid World Cup shortly before Christmas, the first podium finish for a British driver since 1997.

He will be joined in GB1 by Stuart Benson, Joel Fearon and Bruce Tasker, who have been team-mates since 2011, and is hoping to repeat some of the crew’s recent strong displays when they line up in the Olympic competition next month.

“I like the Sochi track, we have good equipment and, if we get in the mix, we could win a medal,” said Jackson, whose partner, Paula Walker, will compete in the two-woman event.

“To represent Team GB for a second time is a great honour, and what makes it so special for me is that the team announcement comes exactly six months after a full Achilles repair operation. I’m looking forward to performing on the greatest stage and at the highest level of competition with my team-mates.”

While Jackson’s selection was all but guaranteed from the moment he proved his fitness, Baines’ Olympic place was hanging in the balance until last weekend.

GB2 driver Lamin Deen finished 11th at the final World Cup event of the season at Igls, a result that elevated him to 20th in the world rankings and enabled Britain to field two four-man bobsleighs at Sochi.

Baines will make his Winter Olympic debut as he competes in GB2 along with former Olympic sprinter Craig Pickering and Benjamin Simons.

“It’s absolutely amazing to be chosen to represent Team GB,” said Baines. “Last week in Igls was true testament to the team – we all pulled together, coaches, staff and athletes, to ensure we qualified two four-man sleds to go to the Winter Olympics.

“I am looking forward to putting on my race suit, standing at the top of the track and racing for Team GB at the Olympics – that has always been my dream.”

With Britain only qualifying one women’s bob, there is no place on the team for Consett’s Mica McNeill, who will instead compete in the Junior World Championships in Winterberg.

“Congratulations to all of the British athletes named to go to Sochi,” tweeted McNeill. “Unfortunately it’s not my time, but watch out Pyeongchang in 2018.”

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