GB bobsleigh pilot John Jackson making 'phenomenal' recovery

British bobsleigh pilot John Jackson has "astounded" medical experts with his rapid recovery following pioneering surgery for a ruptured Achilles.

Jackson, 36, suffered the injury in August and it was feared he could miss the start of the crucial Winter Olympic qualifying season in November.

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I've been working in the field for 23 years and have never seen improvements like this

Dr Rod Jaques

However, he is ahead of schedule and this week will pilot a bobsleigh at the squad's training base in France.

"I'm looking forward to getting back on the ice," Jackson told BBC Sport.

"It will be the first time I've been with the boys since after the operation, so around 12 weeks."

Just hours after sustaining the injury when jumping a hurdle in training, the athlete was presented with two options - traditional repair surgery or a pioneering technique only tested on a handful of patients worldwide.

In a worst-case scenario a complete Achilles tear like Jackson's can take anything from six to 12 months to heal, which would have effectively ruled out an appearance at the Sochi Winter Olympics in February 2014.

But the new approach estimates a return to full sprinting within five months, a choice he described as a "no-brainer".

Medical leads from the British Olympic Association [BOA] and English Institute of Sport (EIS) have been impressed with his recovery, which has been monitored at the Intensive Rehabilitation Unit [IRU]  at Bisham Abbey.

"I've been working in the field for 23 years and have never seen improvements like this. I'm astounded," Dr Rod Jaques of EIS told BBC Sport.

"The milestones he's hit so rapidly are phenomenal, but we can't say this is the golden solution for Achilles tendon ruptures just yet because the proof will come 10 to 20 years down the line."

How Achilles treatments differ

John Jackson
  • Traditional Achilles operations attempt to directly repair the torn tendon by suturing the two damaged ends and allowing nature to take its course
  • The new technique does not attempt to repair the tendon directly but anchors a "very strong rope-like material" above the tear which is then pinned to the heal
  • The "rope" effectively replaces the living tissue and over time allows the tendon to reform around the new structure

Because of the lack of worldwide test subjects, Jackson's long-term prognosis is unknown. But in the immediate future he feels the injury lay-off could actually mean he returns stronger than before.

"There's definitely a case for that because I've been able to lift a lot of weights while being knelt down and so long as I can put the force through my Achilles, I should be in as good shape, if not better, than I would have been."

For Jackson the reward of a second Games would also present him with a chance of banishing the memories of Vancouver, where the two-man and four-man teams both crashed.

"They [the crashes] aren't great memories, but there's no reason why we can't be up there with the best in Sochi," said Jackson, who piloted his team to fifth at the 2013 World Championships.

"We planned after last year that we wanted to be the top starters in the world and all of the training is geared towards that and we can push on for a medal."

After two weeks training with the team in France, Jackson will return to the UK to continue the final stages of his injury rehabilitation.

He then plans to lead the four-man team out at the season-opening World Cup in Calgary, Canada at the end of November.