A FORMER Siberian taxi driver trundled his sled down the bobsleigh track in Sochi yesterday to secure Russia's 13th and final Olympic gold medal, meaning they topped the medal table and had plenty of gold, silver and bronze to show for their £30bn investment.
But just a blink of an eye behind, in a tin can nicknamed the meatwagon, Great Britain's John Jackson nearly delivered a memorable finale to what must be considered Great Britain's most successful ever Winter Olympics. Jackson - with a crew including Scot Stuart Benson, Bruce Tasker and Joel Fearon - finished fifth in the men's four-man bobsleigh, his time over four runs just 0.11 seconds off a medal, Britain's best result since bronze in 1998.
The historians will rightly say that Great Britain's return of one gold, one silver and two bronzes equals their previous best performance, 90 years ago. However, comparing Chamonix 1924 to Sochi 2014 is like comparing slopestyle to figure skating. Only 376 athletes attended those Games, just 16 were women, and 20 nations lined up. In Sochi, 2871 arrived from 88 nations and 26 nations won medals, a new record for the winter Games.
Loading article content
Jackson's fifth place was arguably one of the best British performances here, a real triumph of spirit and determination over adversity.
Exactly seven months ago he ruptured his Achilles in training, an injury that doctors initially thought had ended his career. But Scottish surgeon Professor Gordon Mackay performed pioneering surgery to give him a chance and officials at the British Olympic Association's intensive rehabilitation unit in Buckinghamshire claim they have never seen an athlete work harder to get fit.
But in the end the injury perhaps proved decisive. Because Jackson struggled to pick up World Cup points in the early races of the season, the British sled had a low start draw for the opening run here, meaning they needed to navigate the worst of the ice conditions. They ranked tenth but after that pulled themselves up with a second, fifth and second in their concluding runs, underlining their undoubted podium potential.
Russia's Alexander Zubkov was a class apart, with 600 runs down to track compared to Jackson's 50, but Latvia's Oskars Melbardis and American Steven Holcomb were certainly within his range and it is worth remembering Britain's team had to self-fund the first two years of this Olympic cycle.
"We wanted to show the world what we could do and considering everything Jacko has been through, we can't make any complaints about fifth," said Benson, who hopes to watch his wife Sarah compete in the 3,0000 metres steeplechase for Scotland at this summer's Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. "We've only been fully funded for two and a half years and in that time we've established ourselves as a world-class crew. Bobsleigh programmes need time and maybe these Games came a little soon. We're only getting quicker and our sled is only getting faster."
Nordic skier Andrew Musgrave will also be back in four years but this has not been an Olympics to remember for the 23-year old Scot, who arrived here with high hopes but left only with the award for best post-race comment.
"I skied like a tranquillised badger," he said after becoming Britain's best ever cross-country skier at an Olympics in the sprint, where he was 27th in the prologue to reach the quarter-finals.
The days when just competing was enough for British skiers are now gone; these have been Britain's best ever Games on snow and success is now expected.
"After every race I seem to have a new excuse," said Musgrave, who finished 53rd in the gruelling 50km mass start race. "I felt rubbish in the morning and I had a little bit of a fever the night before. But I thought I may as well race, it is the Olympics."
It has been an excellent Games for Russia though, who rebounded from the nadir of Vancouver, where they won just three golds, to top the medal table for the first time in two decades.
Ahead of Musgrave, Alexander Legkov led a home clean sweep of medals with teammates Maxim Vylegzhanin and Ilia Chernousov completing the podium.