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Bobsleigh star John Jackson keeps Olympic dream alive

IF bobsleigh is Formula One on ice, then John Jackson will be looking to surge through the grid today on a sled he dubs the Meat Wagon.

Britain's men's bobsleigh team are still in the mix for a medal    Photograph:PA
Britain's men's bobsleigh team are still in the mix for a medal Photograph:PA

It will take the combined daring of James Hunt and Jackie Stewart to pull off, but will be worth the watch.

Jackson, alongside Bruce Tasker, Joel Fearon and Scot Stuart Benson, is Team GB's last medal chance here in Sochi and while it remains a long-shot, he's refusing to rule out an improbable podium, which would move these Games into a class of their own in British Olympic history.

Jackson is a Royal Marine and he's not used to failing on a mission. When he ruptured his Achilles just over six months ago, he was told he could be out for a year. He didn't listen.

And he didn't listen last night when some thought he was too far off the pace after the first two of four runs at the Sanki Sliding Centre.

Jackson's GBR1 sled ranked 10th quickest on their opening run but were second fastest on their second attempt, giving his pumped-up crew - still buzzing from the adrenaline of a 90mph thrill ride - a big confidence boost. It means they sit seventh ahead of two concluding runs today, just 0.18 seconds behind Germany's Maximilian Arndt in bronze. Russia's Alexander Zubkov, who won two-man gold and knows this track better than anyone, leads the field ahead of Latvia's Oskars Melbardis.

"We're still only three-tenths of a second off the lead," said Jackson. "Are we out of the medals? We'll just have to see how the next two runs go. It's going to be good racing because there are only hundredths of a second in it.

"I'd like to be running two- tenths quicker, but I don't think I could ask for more. In the first run we made a couple of little mistakes. In the second we just worked to try to tidy things up.

"We almost had identical times so I think that's what's pulled us up the order. We're within easy reach of the top four or five."

British team officials have bet the farm on their four-man crew delivering here, with funding dependent on a top-six finish.

They believe, after extensive consultations with engineers, including F1 teams, they've got a super sled to unleash in the coming seasons, but they need investment, in a sport where the need for speed follows only after the appliance of science. So Jackson is not just racing for his own Olympic ambition - four years after a nightmare Olympics in Vancouver when he suffered two crashes - but for the future of the sport.

Jackson's team finished fifth at last year's World Championships and claimed another top-five finish a few weeks later at the Olympic test event.

Despite rupturing his Achilles in the summer - an injury that required pioneering surgery by Scottish surgeon Professor Gordon Mackay to put his Olympic campaign back in track - Jackson has continued to impress in recent weeks.

His team won Britain's first World Cup four-man medal in 16 years with a silver in Lake Placid last December and finished second at the recent European Championships.

However, Jackson had the disadvantage of starting 12th on the first run because his world ranking had slipped, his injury problems preventing the sled from being at its best in the early season.

It meant rival crews had the best of the ice conditions, while he had to master a highly-technical track that had become rutted by the early starters.

And the dangers of this sport, in which the sleds reach top speeds of nearly 90mph, were underlined when a strongly-fancied Canadian team tipped and skidded down the track just after Jackson had completed his second run. "The first few guys down are really quick and then the ice starts to degrade and everything gets slower," said Benson, a corporal in the Royal Air Force and promising track athlete before his switch to bobsleigh

"We're getting better with every run and we're pushing quicker than ever before, everything is going in the right direction. We've been putting the work in and we know it's all on the line. Jacko is great at this track and we need to put fast at the start to give him the slingshot he needs. We've just gone second fastest after two runs and if we can keep doing that, we'll be up in the mix and that's the target."

Samsung are a proud partner of Team GB and are supporting the Samsung Galaxy Team. To meet the team, see exclusive content and win amazing prizes, including once-in-a-lifetime winter sport training sessions with the Samsung Galaxy Team athletes, visit www.samsung.com/uk/sochi2014.

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