Erin Jackson, after Trials slip, will need teammates’ help to get to Olympics

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Erin Jackson might be the best women’s 500m skater in the world, but on Friday night at U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Trials in Milwaukee, her opportunity to compete at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics might have – quite literally – slipped away.

In the backstretch of her 500-meter race, Jackson caught a bad edge, causing her to stumble.

The 2018 Olympian managed to stay on her feet – though perhaps she shouldn’t have, more on that below – and crossed the line in 38.24 seconds, a remarkable time given the bobble.

But once all was said and done, Jackson found herself in third place behind Brittany Bowe and Kimi Goetz. As it stands now, Jackson will not compete in Beijing as the U.S. only qualified two spots in the women’s 500-meter competition.

Olympic Trials officials considered whether to grant Jackson a re-skate. Per U.S. Speed Skating rules – which are more lenient than those issued by the International Skating Union (ISU) – re-skates may be issued after “an unintentional fall.”

A fall. Not a slip. And so, Jackson’s appeal was denied.

“The rules are, you have to fall to get a re-skate,” Jackson said in her post-race interview. “Making it so you have to fall to get the re-skate, it’s kind of encouraging people to take the sit if they have a stumble like mine.”

Jackson admitted that the idea of falling flashed through her mind. “But I think it’s a bad idea to encourage that,” she said.

The Florida native was adamant that she blames herself – and not the rules – for her current predicament. “I messed up, it’s definitely on me,” she said.

Still, she acknowledged the strangeness of the situation.

How is it possible that she – the gold medal favorite in the women’s 500m – could end up not going to the 2022 Beijing Olympics because of just one bad race?

Every sport – and country – handles Olympic qualification differently.

If Erin Jackson competed in alpine skiing or biathlon or cross-country skiing, she wouldn’t have even needed to compete in an event like Olympic Trials. Her international results alone would have earned her the spot.

If she represented the Netherlands, the most dominant speed skating nation in the world, she would have had two chances – not one – to prove herself in the 500m. Essentially a built-in re-skate.

If she had been injured – or caught Covid – prior to U.S. Olympic Trials, she likely would have been granted a medical exemption by U.S. Speed Skating, based on her status as an Olympic medal contender.

“She is one of the best skaters we’ve ever had. To see this happen to her – in particular – it’s heartbreaking,” said Matt Kooreman, U.S. speed skating’s long track program director.

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While Jackson is currently on the outside looking in, the door to Beijing is not entirely closed.

To start, it is possible that the U.S. could earn a third spot in the women’s 500 once other countries officially accept or decline quota spots. That route currently appears unlikely, according to Kooreman.

The other alternative? Bowe or Goetz could give up their 500-meter spot. Both athletes are much stronger in the longer distance events. They went 1-2 in the 1000m on Thursday and are the two top contenders heading into Saturday’s 1500m. (Though, of course, the ice is slippery.)

Bowe sounded open to the idea. “I think we’d probably find a way to get her in that 500,” she said after Jackson’s slip.

Kooreman stressed that Bowe and Goetz earned their spots, and that U.S. Speed Skating won’t pressure them one way or another. “That’s a decision that they have to make on their own,” he said. “But in all reality, that’s the way.”

UPDATE: Erin Jackson will compete at Olympics after teammate Bowe gives up spot

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC