By Justin Palmer
LONDON, (Reuters) - Former sprinter Craig Pickering was hailed as a potential star of bobsleigh by Britain's performance director on Thursday after being selected for the world championships, two months after taking up the sport.
Pickering will be brakeman in the two-man bob for the St Moritz, Switzerland event beginning later this month.
The 26-year-old, European indoor 60 metres silver medallist in 2007, pushed a bobsleigh on ice for the first time two weeks ago and came 19th on his World Cup debut alongside pilot John Jackson in Germany last weekend.
"He is very strong, he is very fast and the best part of his run is the acceleration over 30 metres which is ideal for us," British Bobsleigh performance director Gary Anderson told Reuters.
"There is no reason why Craig, if he continues to progress like he is, cannot be one of the great brakemen in the world."
Pickering's track career grinded to a halt last year when he lost his UK Athletics funding in October.
He missed the 2012 London Olympics following back surgery, but with a best time of 10.14 seconds over 100 metres and 6.55 indoors over 60 (both set in 2007), his potential to make the switch to winter sports was not lost on Anderson.
"Craig Pickering was an athlete I have been after for the last 12 months - we know his acceleration over 30 metres is so suited to bobsleigh, it's unreal," he said.
"The fact that we have selected him for the world championships doesn't mean he is the finished article.
"This is a long term process for us to try and win a medal in Sochi (2014 Winter Olympics). We want to expose him to high level competition as early as we can but it is very much a long term project."
Anderson said he speaks to many track athletes about switching to bobsleigh but Pickering had needed "a little bit of convincing".
"The (British) four-man (team) is ranked fourth in the world and we are a real medal opportunity in Sochi. That tends to attract a lot of people but it is not for everybody," he added.
"His job as a brakeman is to accelerate the sled over 30 metres, then jump in and sit still. The acceleration of 30 metres is not the problem, it's jumping in and sitting still.
"The nature of our sport is that as a brakeman, talent transfer can be done very quickly as the Americans have shown this year; Lolo Jones, Aja Evans and Tianna Madison. Now Jana Pittman for Australia."
Pickering, who won a track bronze medal as part of Britain's 4x100 relay team at the 2007 world championships in Osaka, has followed American Olympic gold medallist Tianna Madison and hurdler Lolo Jones into the winter sport.
Former hurdles world champion Jana Pittman is also bidding for the brakewoman's role behind two-time Olympian Astrid Radjenovic in Australia's team for the Sochi Games.
"Craig has taken to it extremely well, in the short time he has been with us he has been exceptional," Anderson added.
"I'm not putting any markers on Craig at the moment. What I'm looking for is progression from every competition.
"We saw Craig can adapt to bobsleigh, we saw he is capable of accelerating the bobsleigh at the velocity we need him to, and the fact that he coped with it.
"Sitting in that sled going down at nearly 90 mph behind someone where you have no control - that takes some balls - and Craig has illustrated that he has got that."
Pickering tweeted his delight on Thursday, saying: "Been to 4 athletics World Championships, and now excited to hear I'm off to my first bobsleigh World Champs. Temperature may be different."
Pickering will compete in a World Cup race in Austria on Saturday.
"Let's see what happens," Anderson said. "It will be a good comparison to where he was last weekend." (editing by Mark Meadows)