Overcoming an intimidating field that included three Olympic medalists and four world championship medalists, Australia’s Jaclyn Narracott is the unexpected leader midway through the women’s skeleton competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics.
The first two of four heats were held Thursday local time and Narracott, who was 16th at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics, was second after a shockingly fast first run — despite a few mistakes. A narrow 0.02 seconds behind Mirela Rahneva of Canada, she was able to take advantage of Rahneva’s big mistake in the uphill section in Heat 2 and her own consistency to rise to the top.
Australia has never won an Olympic medal in the sport of skeleton, which returned to the Olympic program in 2002 after initially being held at the 1928 and 1948 Winter Games. Its best finish to date is Emma Lincoln-Smith‘s 10th-place performance at the Vancouver 2010 Games.
Rahneva is now in ninth, while Germans Hannah Neise and Tina Hermann moved up into podium position.
Narracott’s combined time of 2:04.34 leads, with Neise 0.21 seconds back at 2:04.55 and Hermann just 0.02 behind her teammate (2:04.57).
Narracott, 31 years old, has been competing on the IBSF World Cup stage since 2014 and — until last month — had a career-best result of seventh.
She earned her first World Cup medal — a gold, no less — at the final race before the Olympics, a Jan. 14 World Cup in St. Moritz, Switzerland. And now she could add an Olympic gold.
Though she represents Australia, Narracott lives and trains with the Great Britain bobsled and skeleton team. She is in a long-term relationship with Dom Parsons, who earned the men’s skeleton Olympic bronze medal in 2018.
The 29-year-old Hermann was a favorite entering the Games, after winning five of the last six world titles in the sport, plus the 2021 Olympic test event. Her resume that also includes over 30 World Cup medals is missing only an Olympic medal; she was fifth in 2018.
Neise was second at the test event, though is making her Olympic debut this year and at 21 years old has very limited experience on the senior circuit with only two World Cup seasons under her belt. She has had a very successful junior career, though, taking silver at the 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games and winning the 2021 junior world title.
Dutch slider Kimberley Bos, who won this season’s overall World Cup title, is sixth.
Five-time U.S. Olympian Katie Uhlaender, who is still seeking her first Olympic medal, sits in eighth with a time of 2:04.87.
Teammate Kelly Curtis, who at her first Games made history as the first Black skeleton athlete to compete for the United States at the Olympics, is 18th.
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