Dom Parsons takes ‘hangover cure’ all the way to Olympic podium

Dom Parsons thought he had blown his chances in the skeleton, but finished third in the event. Picture: SNS/SRU.
Dom Parsons thought he had blown his chances in the skeleton, but finished third in the event. Picture: SNS/SRU.
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We are up and running, a Winter Olympic medal at last, beautiful, beautiful bronze as Donald Trump might say, delivered by PhD mechanical engineering student Dom 
Parsons in the skeleton.

Since no-one was catching South Korean supernova Yun Sungbin, the window of opportunity had shrunk to silver and bronze, and in a tense finale of fractional shifts Parsons thought he had butchered his chance only to be rescued when five-time world champion Martins Dukurs of Latvia racked up the errors to slip from second to fourth.

“It was a bit of a rollercoaster after that fourth run. I was devastated, I thought I’d binned it totally,” said Parsons, who missed out on silver by only two hundredths of a second. “I made a couple of mistakes down there that dropped me behind Nikita (Tregubov, silver) and (potentially) Martins. Unfortunately for him, he made a couple of 
mistakes which cost him two spots.

“Before he went down he was the last person I would have expected to make those mistakes. I’m very grateful I got lucky and I’ve got to try to process what happened because it doesn’t seem real to me.”

Waiting patiently to throw their arms around their son were father David, who once ran against Olympic gold medalist hurdler David Hemery, and mother Judith, who claimed she had not been so stressed since her school days waiting for her exam results, and that, she said, was a long time ago.

“I can’t tell you how emotional it’s been,” she said. “It’s worse than the exam nerves I used to get when I was 11 years old. I thought ‘oh no’. My heart sank. And it was Jack Thomas (fellow slider) who turned to me and said ‘there’s still hope’.”

Parsons, 30, came to this madcap sport via a student hangover at Bath University, never imagining that an agreement struck through the haze of barbecue beers would conclude like this.

“Adam Pengilly is the one to blame. He was invited along to a barbecue during the summer. Because I was one of those students who stayed in Bath for the summer I didn’t have a place to stay, so I stayed on my friend’s couch,” said Parsons, who chose Bath to purse his athletics ambitions in the 400 metres.

“Adam had persuaded him to come and have a go at some skeleton trials. I didn’t even know what skeleton was at the time. I went along but I was suffering a little bit with the fun of the night before and I skipped all the testing they were doing.

“Then Adam said to me do you want to have a go on the push track as well. It was just a bit of fun, then I tried a bit harder and it was great fun, and a great hangover cure. But the next time Adam invited me to a push camp with all the GB guys on it, I brought my spikes and won the push 

The path to bronze nirvana was rutted with pitfalls. Twice he was kicked off the skeleton programme, forcing him to fund his own progression until he was recalled decisively at the start of the 2012-13 season, when he posted his only podium finish before this.

Parsons is part of the remarkable rise of the British skeleton community, expressed most emphatically in the performance of the women, who via the agency of Shelley Rudman, Amy Williams and Lizzy Yarnold have returned silver and two golds in successive games.

Parsons ends a 70-year wait for a British male to claim a medal, following John Crammond, who stood on the podium in St Moritz, to bronze. Crammond went down the shute wearing a knitted sweater and a helmet that was more plant pot than aerodynamic bullet.

There are some who would welcome more of that low-tech immersion, not least the ruddy-faced Latvian coach grumbling about the impact of technology on his sport, not suits in this instance, the subject of earlier laments, but runners and materials in sled science that he claims diminishes the agency of the rider.

Piffle. On this occasion it was human error that cost his man, a short circuit of the old brain function under pressure, not the inferiority of the kit beneath him.

What next for Parsons? A hangover, surely. “I’ll be enjoying myself for the last week of the Games, and trying to watch as many of my team-mates as possible.”

Starting with Yarnold and Laura Deas, who continue the hunt for skeleton medals today.