Australia’s Olympic delegation bathed in pride on Sunday as the country hailed a record Winter Games medal haul for their team and an unlikely hero in skeleton racer Jackie Narracott.
Narracott’s surprise silver in women’s skeleton on Saturday pushed Australia to a record fourth medal in Beijing, following gold for freestyle skier Jakara Anthony, snowboarder Scotty James‘ silver and bronze for women’s snowboarder Tess Coady. read more
“It is a fantastic morning,” Australia chef de mission Geoff Lipshut told reporters in Zhangjiakou on Sunday. “It was (an) absolute thrill last night, it was history-making.”
While long known for punching above their weight at the Summer Olympics, Australia have made strides in winter sports over the past two decades despite little snowfall and short winters compared to northern hemisphere powers.
The team’s success in Beijing, however, has been an unexpected delight given the challenges many of the country’s 43 athletes have faced preparing for the Games through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Until recently, Australia’s travel bans, border controls and 14-day quarantine requirement for international arrivals proved hugely disruptive, forcing many Games hopefuls to tear up their training and travel plans.
With a smaller athlete contingent than the 50 who competed at the Pyeongchang Games, Australia’s Olympic officials had modest expectations for Beijing and might gladly have taken the 2018 haul of two silvers and a bronze if offered beforehand
That they can now savour a record is thanks largely to the doggedness of 31-year-old Queenslander Narracott, whose pursuit of Olympic success has been almost completely self-funded.
Australia had a skeleton programme from 2006 to 2014 but shut it down because it failed to reach its benchmarks, said Lipshut.
“And that’s why I opened up and said Jackie’s is a remarkable effort,” he said of her silver, Australia’s first in any Olympic sliding event.
“It’s just someone who has found a way to do something that is truly incredible.”
In eight years on the World Cup circuit, Narracott had never won a medal until a breakthrough win at St Moritz, Switzerland, a month ago.
In the season after a 16th-place finish at Pyeongchang, she feared her sliding days were over in the wake of a nasty crash in Calgary that left her in a daze for six months with concussion symptoms.
After the COVID-19 pandemic ended a coaching partnership with the Canadian skeleton team, she lent heavily on her British husband Dom Parsons, who won a skeleton bronze at Pyeongchang, to help her prepare for Beijing.
She paid tribute to Parsons and her uncle Paul Narracott, the first Australian to compete at both the Summer and Winter Olympics.
A sprinter at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and a bobsleigh racer at the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville, France, Narracott had tipped his niece would be a medal threat in Beijing.
“He messaged me to say he was so proud of me,” said Jackie Narracott, who followed her uncle into bobsleigh before switching to skeleton.
“I owe him a lot, too … Without him leading the way, this probably wouldn’t happen.”