JOHN Jackson missed Olympic bronze by the blink of an eye as his sled dubbed ‘George Four-man’ narrowly failed to deliver a knockout blow in Sochi.
However, there should be no shame in an against-the-odds fifth-place finish, Britain’s best bobsleigh performance at the Games since their 1998 bronze.
Exactly seven months ago driver Jackson was felled after rupturing his Achilles in training, an injury that doctors initially thought had ended his career.
But the Royal Marine is not the sort to surrender and officials say they’ve never seen anyone push himself harder to make an Olympic team.
However, there would be no medal gain to ease the pain as Jackson and his ‘meatwagon’ – the alternative nickname crew Bruce Tasker, Stuart Benson and Joel Fearon have given their sled – finished just 0.11 seconds off a medal.
Their world ranking meant a difficult, and ultimately decisive, draw in the first run on Saturday. They started from 12th, ensuring Jackson had to pilot his sled through poor ice conditions, and finished tenth quickest.
After that they were always in the mix, finishing second, fifth and second quickest in the next three runs to prove their podium potential.
“We’re close. I don’t think we’re disappointed,” said Jackson. “We’ve put in a good performance 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.”
Russia’s Alexander Zubkov – a former Siberian taxi driver with 600 runs down to track compared to Jackson’s 50 – added the four-man title to his two-man gold, while Latvia’s Oskars Melbardis and American Steven Holcomb completed the podium.
Jackson will continue in the sport in the short term but claims this will be his final Olympics. He has backed Tasker to take over driving duties in Pyeongchang.
The top-five finish will be enough to secure future funding, the criteria of showing podium potential emphatically underlined here at the Sanki Sliding Centre. 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 bears 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,”
“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.”
British team coach Gary Anderson, while admitting the result felt ‘bittersweet’, insisted the future was bright for British bobsleigh, with Jackson planning on driving for two more seasons before handing over to Tasker.
“It’s bittersweet, you know what I wanted, that medal meant so much to our guys and we’ve come up just that little bit short,” he said.
“These are young guys, Jacko is the oldest there but the rest will still be around in four years and I believe we can challenge for a medal then.
“It’s been four years of extremely hard work and I’m very proud of them all.”