Overcoming an intimidating field that included three Olympic medalists and four world championship medalists, Australia's Jaclyn Narracott was the unexpected leader midway through the women's skeleton competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics.
The first two of four heats were held Thursday and Narracott, who was 16th at the 2018 PyeongChang 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 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
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, 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 to that short list of international medals.
"This field is ridiculously competitive, so to be sitting on top of it is phenomenal," Narracott said. "It was always going to be a good race, and I knew that if I could put down two runs where I was calm and composed I was going to be in the mix. But that still doesn't make it any less exciting to be sitting No. 1."
Though she represents Australia, Narracott lives and trains with Great Britain's bobsled and skeleton team. She is married to Dom Parsons, the 2018 Olympic bronze medalist in men's skeleton.
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 résumé, which 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, 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 eighth with a time of 2:04.87. She is now the first U.S. woman to compete in five Olympics in any of the three sliding sports, and the first women's skeleton athlete from any nation to reach five Olympic appearances.
“I feel the best I've ever felt at an Olympics, I feel the most prepared mentally," Uhlaender said.
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 in 18th.