For 54 years, the sport of skeleton did not race in the Winter Olympics. Between 1948 and 2002, it was considered too dangerous.
It’s not hard to see the risk. Hurtling headfirst down an ice track on a small sled, reaching speeds of 130 kilometers per hour – faster than you can legally drive in most countries – sounds crazy.
Then there’s the 5Gs of pressure pushing on your neck – a feeling like the start of a roller coaster where takeoff surprises you and jams your head into the back of the seat, but instead it pushes towards down, fiercely, into the ice.
Like any sport, safety is paramount, but it comes with inherent risks. It’s definitely not for the faint-hearted.
“If you’re scared, this probably isn’t the sport for you.”
That’s the honest confession of Australia’s first-ever Olympic Winter Games medalist in sliding, skeleton athlete Jackie Narracott.
But how does a child from sunny Queensland end up on the podium in snowy Beijing?
This story begins with his uncle, Paul Naracott.
“I was a sprinter and long jumper growing up, I dreamed of going to the Summer Olympics like my Uncle Paul. He was the first Australian to compete in both the Summer and Olympics. winter. So there was that on my mind,” Narracott told ESPN’s Beyond The Lead podcast.
“And then having Uncle Paul as a bobsledder, so the Winter Olympics were always kind of on my mind, one day I’ll try bobsledding.”
After trying bobsleigh in November 2011 she was told she was too small but would continue to tour Europe for a few months, finally switching to skeleton in March 2012.
With a taste for skeleton, Narracott took up running. But the path to Olympic glory was by no means smooth and simple.
Australia is not known for its Winter Olympic exploits. The Winter Games conjure up visions of Steven Bradbury’s literally incredible gold medal in speed skating. As such, Narracott entered the sport at a difficult time.
From 2006 to 2014 there was a slip program in place. But the results in Sochi in 2014 did not go as planned. This was Naracott’s second season on the ice.
“So I had a few seasons with a bit of a program around me. And then we lost everything: so it was all the funding, all the coaching, all the support that was ripped from me that, in the second year slider, that was good timing,” Narracott said with a sarcastic laugh.
“I went on the World Cup tour for my third season on the ice without a coach and without any funding. So it was a great idea. Lack of funding is a problem, but luckily since 2018 the Winter Olympic Institute came on board, so they gave me a little more funding, but mom and dad’s bank was awesome.
Chasing winter meant spending part of the year in Australia, then heading overseas, away from family and friends, in pursuit of his sporting dreams.
In between it all, she was trying to hold down a part-time job to help fund it all. The key word is to try.
“There’s this balance between trying to be a full-time athlete and working in retail or work hospitality, which isn’t great for someone who spends a lot of time sprinting.”
The collapse of the program, financial dependence on his parents, and months away from home were not the only hardships Narracott would have to endure. One of the dangers of skeleton riding is an uneven track. Tiny bumps at this speed and with this force are amplified exponentially and are responsible for concussions.
In 2019, Narracott suffered a head injury.
“It was my third concussion. And it could very well have been the end of my career,” she said.
The concussion and the very real possibility of retirement sparked a serious conversation between Narracott and his sports psychologist. It meant she had to zoom out and look at the bigger picture not only in terms of her career, but also her life after sports if her physical symptoms did not improve.
“I was ready to quit. My parents and my husband were like, ‘We need you to be healthy. It’s not worth your brain. There’s more to life than being an athlete. So, if you go to Whistler and you “It’s okay, great. If you’re going to Whistler and you’re not doing well, then you have to seriously consider quitting.”
Weighing the decision to quit also meant accepting that her career might not end with the silverware she craved and knew she was capable of. Narracott has learned to let go of expectations and pressure with the very real possibility of retirement.
“I only got scared once. And that was actually my first race after my last concussion, which was pretty bad. It was a defining moment for my career. Hence the scare” , she said.
Fortunately, his return to the ice had no negative physical effects and, freed from the pressure of victory, Narracott’s mentality shifted to a positive stance.
“I was just calm. I was having fun. I wasn’t worried about what other people were doing,” Narracott said. “It was just, ‘Okay, what do I need to do now to be the best I can be?’
“I was in the moment…but it came from the fact that I finally let go of the need and the urge to win a medal. I tried to win a medal [at] a World Cup for years. And I always knew I could do it. But I finally let go of this idea that my career was somehow going to be worse because I didn’t have a medal.
“So I think that allowed that last little tension that was obviously still in my body to relax. And then all of a sudden it just started to sink in.”
Not only the races started to flow, but the results too. His first World Cup win came in St Moritz, Switzerland just weeks before the Olympics. It was an important victory for many reasons.
“So, first of all, it’s one of my favorite tracks. It’s everyone’s favorite track because it’s natural and it slides through a forest,” she said. “And you don’t get any of the vibes that you get on normal tracks. And that’s the birthplace of our sport. So there was that aspect of it. It was also the first World Cup that my husband was in for. was training.”
Her husband, Dom Parsons, a British skeleton racer, was able to help Narracott figure out the track faster than anyone else: a good omen for what was to come in Beijing.
After 10 years of racing without a win, this breakthrough paved the way for Olympic success.
“Two days before the race – so the last day of training – didn’t go as planned. I had terrible races, calling everything into question,” she recalls. “But luckily we got to race day and I was like, ‘No, it’ll be fine. “”
Her first two races put her in a good position with the gold medal hype after Narracott and sparked the interest of the sports-loving public back home in Australia.
“I was very lucky that my sprint coach, my sports shrink and Dom, my husband, were like, ‘You don’t need to do anything different. Today doesn’t require perfection. be consistent. It doesn’t have to be a three-second record. It has to be pretty good.
“So I was relaxed and having fun. And I think that might have put a few people off. Like, I was nervous, but I was probably the least nervous for the Olympics than I had been all the season, which is pretty cool.
“Everything, and I know it sounds silly, it just clicked. And it was two of those days where I had races that were good. And I knew they were fast. I didn’t have didn’t realize at the time that they were as fast as they actually were, which was fun, and then the biggest challenge was always going to be the time difference between the races, race two and race three.
Narracott successfully passed those 36 hours between races and continued to run fast. But a strong finish from Germany’s Hannah Neise won her gold.
“I think the race result sunk in like the fact that I finished second in the Olympics. In fact, second in a race? It’s sunk in,” she said. “Second in the Olympics still takes a while and then what that means from a larger historical perspective that might take a bit of time to sink in.”
Just as the story of Uncle Paul brought Narracott to bobsledding, there is no doubt that Jackie became the same figure for a child in Australia. She is aware of this responsibility and wants to ensure that the path to eventual Winter Olympic medals is easier for the next generation.
Her hope is that any funding raised from her medal will go towards development programs, getting kids on the ice, learning to slide and seeing if sliding sports are the ones they want to practice is the first step.
A push track in Queensland would also help identify talent for all board sports.
After spending time in Australia for the first time in years, Narracott returned to the UK and resumed training.
With Milan 2026 being the end point of a new four-year block, Narracott is tempted by the idea of a normal, COVID-free Olympiad. Outside of the hyper-focus of the Olympics, the hard work begins again with preparations for the World Cup events on the agenda after a well-deserved break.
“It’s a year-to-year proposition,” she said. “And then a few years after Milan, we’ll be looking to put things in place so that it’s in terms of the equipment and the body. But the first year of the quad is. ‘We can breathe again. Let’s go back , have fun, release the pressure and slowly build it back up.’”