Just over a month after a slip at Olympic Trials nearly cost her a trip to Beijing for the 2022 Winter Olympics, U.S. speed skater Erin Jackson is an Olympic gold medalist.
Jackson, competing her second Olympics just six years after she first stepped on the ice, won gold in the women’s 500-meter event.
“This medal means so much,” she said. “It has been a tough couple of years and a tough beginning for this year. For this to come around like this, I am so happy.”
Skating in the second-to-last pair, Jackson posted the fastest time of the day – 37.04 seconds – and then had to wait to see if it would hold up.
“I am a very calm person anyway, so I was just waiting and watching,” she said. “There was nothing I could do.”
Video of speed skater Erin Jackson racing the 500m at the 2022 Winter Olympics:
— On Her Turf (@OnHerTurf) February 13, 2022
When the final duo crossed the line, Jackson’s gold medal was confirmed. With the win, she breaks numerous records:
- She is the first Black woman to win a speed skating medal of any color
- She is the first American to win speed skating gold since Shani Davis won his second straight gold in the men’s 1000m in 2010
- She is the first American woman to win speed skating gold since Chris Witty won the women’s 1000m at the 2002 Salt Lake Games
- She is the first American woman to win gold in the women’s 500m since Bonnie Blair won three straight titles (1988, 1992, 1994).
Japan’s Takagi Miho won silver (0.08 seconds behind Jackson), her sixth career Olympic medal, while Angelina Golikova of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) claimed her first Olympic medal, a bronze.
Erin Jackson wins gold after a slip at Trials nearly cost her a trip to the Winter Olympics
Erin Jackson entered January’s U.S. Olympic Trials as the best women’s 500m speed skater in the world, but a slip in her marquee event almost cost her a ticket to the Olympics.
In the backstretch of her 500m race, Jackson caught a bad edge, causing her to stumble. She managed to stay on her feet, 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. Because the U.S. only initially qualified two spots in the women’s 500m, Jackson was on the outside looking in.
But then Bowe gave up her spot in the event.
“Erin has a shot to bring home a medal – hopefully a gold medal – and it’s my honor to give her that opportunity. She’s earned it and she deserves it,” Bowe said in January.
Bowe and Jackson grew up in Ocala, Florida, where they both competed in inline skating before making the transition to the ice. Bowe made her Olympic debut in 2014, while Jackson qualified for her first Olympic Games in 2018 after only four cumulative months of on-ice training.
Video of speed skater Erin Jackson’s first on-ice steps in 2016:
The story of @ErinJackson480 is incredible ❤️
— On Her Turf (@OnHerTurf) February 13, 2022
Jackson, who is four years younger, has long looked up to Bowe.
“I’ve known her almost my whole life,” Jackson said in January. “I’ve always known what an incredible person she is… She’s always been there for me, helping me out, even when I was the new kid back in Ocala. [She’s] always been an awesome mentor and an amazing friend if I ever need advice.”
Once quota spots were reallocated, the U.S. was granted a third spot in the women’s 500m, giving Bowe her own spot back. She finished 16th overall in Sunday’s race, while Goetz placed 18th.
“Words can’t explain how proud I am of her,” Bowe said after Jackson’s victory. “I knew she had the chance to do something really special and she just showed the world why she deserved to be here, and she’s Olympic champion.”
But Bowe also downplayed the role she played in getting Jackson to the Olympic start line. “I’m a part of the puzzle, but I want this moment to be all about her,” Bowe said. “She went to the start line on her own and she skated the best 500 of her life to be Olympic champion.”
Jackson, though, insists Bowe’s gesture is worth celebrating, too.
“When she gave up her spot, she didn’t know we were getting a third one, so she made a really big sacrifice for me and I will be grateful to her forever,” Jackson said.
As for the impact she wants her gold medal will have, “I just hope it will do something for the sport. Hopefully more people will see this and will be, like, ‘Oh, maybe I should try some of these winter sports.’ I just hope to be a good example.”
ALSO FROM ON HER TURF: In alpine skiing, women compete, but that’s about it
Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC