News13 Feb 2022

Switch from sprints to skeleton pays off for Winter Olympic medallist Narracott


Jackie Narracott in action at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics (© Getty Images)

Speed runs in the Narracott genes, but it has come out in an unexpected way with Jackie Narracott, who has become the first Australian to win an Olympic sliding medal at the Winter Games in Beijing.

The former sprinter and jumper, who for many years thought she would become an Olympian in the summer rather than the winter, hurtled down the ice track at Yanqing on Saturday to earn the silver medal in the women’s skeleton, creating yet another historic moment for a family blessed with fast-twitch fibres.

Her uncle Paul Narracott remains the only Australian to have reached the 100m final at the World Athletics Championships (seventh in Helsinki in 1983) and blazed a new trail when he became the first Australian to compete at both the Summer (1984 in Los Angeles) and Winter Olympics (1992 in Albertville), having taken up the bobsleigh after retiring from the track.

Jackie also began as a sprinter and long jumper but realised at 20 that her abilities did not match her dreams of competing at the Olympics in athletics.

Inspired by her uncle Paul, she also made the leap from sprinting to sliding, joining the Australian bobsleigh squad in 2011, where she was spotted by the national skeleton coaches and recruited in 2012, undaunted by the prospect of plunging down an ice track at 120km/hr with her chin just millimetres from the ice.

“There’s just something about that feeling of speed that had me hooked,” she says.

Narracott, now 31, began competing on the World Cup circuit in 2014 and made her first Olympic appearance in PyeongChang four years ago, where she finished 15th.

But it is in partnership with her husband and coach Dom Parsons, who won a bronze medal for Great Britain in PyeongChang, that she has broken through to become a medal contender.

Narracott timed her run to the Beijing Games just right, winning her first World Cup victory (and medal) in St Moritz in the last lead-up competition to the Olympics and riding that confidence all the way to the Olympic podium, having tamed an ice track nicknamed ‘The Dragon’.

“I think coming in (before that World Cup win in St Moritz) I would have been happy with top 10,” Jackie said. “After my St Moritz result, I knew it was a possibility (to win a medal) but our field of competitors is ridiculous so to come out with this is pretty incredible… It's just everything I've dreamt of. It's going to take a while for everything to sink in."

She was never lower than second in the standings through the four runs of the Olympic competition, sitting second after run one and first after run two, which meant she was in the gold medal position overnight.

She returned to set a track record in run three, but was then overtaken by rising German star and eventual gold medallist Hannah Neise. Jackie, however, held her nerve to clinch the silver medal in the final run four.

“I had nothing to lose,” Narracott said. “I knew that if I was just relaxed and feel what I've been doing for the past three months, it would be OK. That's the most relaxed I've felt on the sled probably my whole career.

“It’s been so surreal and easy and just everything that we worked for finally came together.”

Narracott is the first athlete who came through the ranks in track and field before transferring to the ice, to win a medal in these Games, but she’s unlikely to be the last as the bobsleigh competition unfolds this week.

The route from sprinting to sliding is a well-worn path, particularly for the bobsledders, and contenders in action over the coming days include Germany’s Alexandra Burghardt (competing in her second Olympics in six months after contesting the 100m and 4x100m in Tokyo) who will combine with defending Olympic champion Mariama Jamanka (a former thrower) in the two-woman bob; Montell Douglas, who is competing at a Beijing Olympics for the second time after appearing as a sprinter at the 2008 summer Games; and Kaysha Love, who is the brake woman for the leading US two-woman bob.

But track and field athletes have also established a strong record in the skeleton, winning at least one medal in the women’s event at the past three Games. The 2014 and 2018 Olympic champion Lizzy Yarnold of Great Britain was initially a heptathlete and thrower before finding her feet on the ice.

In that sense, Narracott is the latest in a line of athletes who have made their dreams come true by switching to a different track.

Nicole Jeffery for World Athletics