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Page last updated at 17:11 GMT, Tuesday, 9 November 2010

From bobsleighing to Afghanistan

John Jackson and girlfriend and fellow bobsleigher Paula Walker
John Jackson and girlfriend and fellow bobsleigher Paula Walker

By Anna Thompson

John Jackson is no stranger to representing his country - after all he competed for Great Britain at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver in the two and four-man bobsleigh.

But the 33-year-old could miss the 2011 World Championships in Germany in February as he has received a call-up to serve his country in a totally different way, this time with the Royal Marines in Afghanistan.

Jackson is a Corporal in the Commando unit and he is set for a six-month tour of duty from March but will need to miss chunks of the bobsleigh season to train.

He told BBC Sport: "I love bobsleigh but the Royal Marines is my job and if they need me, I have to go.

"I am hoping I can come to some arrangement with my Navy bosses to allow me to compete in the World Championships but at the moment there is still a doubt.

Jackson and Money in action at the 2010 Winter Olympics
Jackson and Money in action at the 2010 Winter Olympics

"The training is different for bobsleigh and the Royal Marines. Bobsleigh is all about speed and power whereas I need a lot more endurance fitness for the Marines."

It was the Navy which introduced Jackson to the ice sport five years ago when former bobsleigh driver and fellow Royal Marine Lee Johnston suggested he should give it a go.

"I was a bit nervous at first but I loved it," he added.

"I don't find either [bobsleigh or the Royal Marines] that scary any more. They are both a job to me and I find I can switch from one mindset to the other quite easily."

Jackson has had a meteoric rise through the ranks but that meant he was controversially given the nod as the main British team driver in Vancouver ahead of Johnston, who appealed without success.

According to Jackson, the Winter Olympics were a "great experience".

That was despite him crashing in both the two and four-man competitions on the same Whistler track which had claimed the life of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili on the day of the opening ceremony. Jackson's four-man crew finally came 17th overall after the crash put paid to a top 10 finish.

It is nine months since the Winter Olympics and the men's and women's teams are back training on the ice ahead of the 2011 season, which kicks off later this month.

The long-term focus is British success at the 2014 Winter Games which will be held in Sochi, Russia, but for this season Jackson will concentrate on getting top eight finishes on the Europa Cup circuit.

"In 2014 we are definitely aiming to get on the podium - both the men and women. I feel we have the right athletes and equipment, it's just about getting it all to come together," said Jackson, who hails from Bishop Auckland but currently splits his time between Lympstone in Devon and Trowbridge in Wiltshire.

British bobsleigh was certainly buoyed by Nicola Minichiello and Gillian Cooke's amazing feat at the 2009 World Championships, when they came away with the title, the first British success since 1965.

Unfortunately Minichiello will miss the entire season - and the chance to defend her world crown - through injury but Paula Walker has stepped up to drive the GB1 bobsleigh.

Walker is Jackson's girlfriend and has only been involved in the sport for a similar length of time - and she too was recruited while serving in the Armed Forces, in her instance with the Royal Signals.

It's a shame Nicola [Minichiello] is not competing this season as Britain would have two strong teams but it is a great opportunity for me

Paula Walker

She recalled the first time she experienced bobsleigh: "It wasn't a pleasant feeling, it was alien, like no other sport. I was scared to death but the huge adrenaline rush I got at the end of it was amazing. I think I'm addicted to that.

"I still get nervous before a race but I think if I didn't, the track would come back and bite me."

The 24-year-old is a full-time athlete and will compete in the World Cup and World Championships in Koenigsee.

She finished a creditable 11th in Vancouver and that was after witnessing both Minichiello's and Jackson's sleds overturning on the particularly tricky track.

"I knew there would be a lot of crashes during the races as there had been in practice and I'd crashed in practice," said Walker, who is originally from Blackburn but now living in Trowbridge.

"Nicola and Gillian were racing just before me and I saw on the TV monitor they had crashed. There was a delay of five minutes and it's hard not to dwell on what could happen but my coach Peter Gunn was really good in the situation by keeping my mind focused.

"It's a shame Nicola is not competing this season as Britain would have two strong teams but it is a great opportunity for me."

Not surprisingly, bobsleigh tends to consume Jackson and Walker's lives - even when they make a pact not to talk about it, it creeps into their conversation.

And the couple have admitted they have a healthy rivalry in everything they do.

"We're competitive at everything we try and do and we try to get one over on each other all the time," said Jackson.

Walker confirmed: "We often play the Winter Olympics computer game. I always win."

GB crash in two-man bobsleigh

GB crash in two-man bobsleigh

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see also
Walker to drive British bobsleigh
16 Aug 10 |  Winter Sports
GB bobsleigh struggles continue
27 Feb 10 |  Bobsleigh
British bobsleigh pair crash out
21 Feb 10 |  Bobsleigh

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