Winter Olympics: Bobsleigh is no sideshow for Craig Pickering

Former Olympic sprinter Craig Pickering has turned his back on track athletics to go for British gold at the Sochi Winter Games next February. He explains all to Phil Medlicott

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The Independent Online

Under the capable guidance of pilot John Jackson, Craig Pickering is on a journey with British Bobsleigh that he believes could take him to a gold medal at the Winter Olympic Games next year.

Pickering, who competed as a sprinter at the Beijing summer Olympics, joined the bobsleigh set-up in December 2012. And after cutting his teeth in two-man competition last season, the 27-year-old has now made the GBR1 four-man squad for the 2013-14 campaign – getting under way later this month – in which qualification for February’s Sochi Olympics can be secured.

The group is piloted by Jackson, a 36-year-old Vancouver 2010 Olympian, whom Pickering also worked alongside in two-man action and towards whom he feels a great debt of gratitude for the direction he has provided in a broader sense.

“He invests a lot of time in helping me,” Pickering said. “I like to think that it’s because he can see the potential, but I don’t really know. I’m sure it can be quite frustrating for him, working with someone who initially has literally no idea about what is going on, when he’s been around for years doing it.

“But he was really patient with me, explaining everything and taking his time, not dwelling on the mistakes I was making. He has been incredibly helpful.”

Royal Marine Jackson, who has been working his way back to fitness after suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon in July, piloted a four-man team to fifth at the World Championships earlier this year, and Pickering sees gold in Sochi as a realistic prospect.

“The guys came fifth at the worlds, so if we can improve on that by two places, that is third and then once you are there, anything could happen – we could maybe even come away with gold,” he said.

Athletics, meanwhile, is something Crawley-born Pickering admits he is “not really too interested in” at the moment – and, it seems, may well not return to.

He was part of Great Britain’s bronze medal-winning team in the 4x100 metres relay at the World Championships in Osaka in 2007; the same year he took individual 100m gold at the European Cup in Munich. But he missed the 2012 London Olympics after back surgery and subsequently lost his funding.

He has not completely ruled out making a track comeback –he may even take part in next summer’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow – but it would require a considerable change in his current feelings towards athletics.

“I did four weeks of races [on the athletics track over the summer]. But where I am now, I just want to focus on the Winter Olympics,” he said. “I wasn’t really enjoying athletics this year because it wasn’t my focus – for me to enjoy something it has to be, and bobsleigh is my focus now. I have to turn my back on athletics, to be honest. I’m not really too interested in it right now. That might change in the future.

“My only target is Sochi and then, after that, spending four years preparing for the next Winter Olympics.

“If the Glasgow Commonwealth Games sort of falls into that picture and I get my motivation back, then I’m not going to rule anything out. But for where I am right now, it is just about winter sport.”