On Sunday, U.S. speed skater Erin Jackson won gold in the 500-meter at the 2022 Winter Olympics. Following a slip at U.S. Olympic Trials, Jackson initially failed to qualify for the Beijing Winter Games – until her teammate and friend Brittany Bowe gave up her spot in the event. Bowe ultimately was able to compete in the 500-meter event, too, after quota spots were reallocated.
Originally published: January 9, 2022
Speed skater Erin Jackson is set to compete at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics after her U.S. teammate Brittany Bowe decided give up her own 500-meter spot.
Bowe – who also qualified in the 1000m and 1500m – had been hinting at such making such a decision ever since Jackson – the world’s top woman in the 500m – slipped during her marquee event on Friday night at U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Trials in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Despite the bobble, Jackson crossed the line in 38.24 seconds, good enough for third place behind Bowe and Kimi Goetz.
“Before we left the building on Friday night, I had to give Erin a hug and told her that… if it came down to me, she could have my spot because she earned it,” Bowe said on Sunday.
After also qualifying for the 1000m and 1500m, the decision was – indeed – Bowe’s to make. She decided to make it official today after receiving a notice from U.S. Speed Skating telling her to come to the rink for the official Olympic team announcement and champagne celebration.
“I just had to make my official call because I couldn’t have had a celebratory time without Erin there,” Bowe said.
Brittany Bowe’s decision – while the epitome of sportsmanship and kindness – is also good for Team USA’s Olympic outlook
So far this season, Jackson has finished on the podium at six of eight World Cup 500-meter races, including four wins. With that first win in October, the 29-year-old became the first Black woman to win a long track speed skating World Cup race.
“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.
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.
Jackson, who is four years younger, has long looked up to Bowe.
“I’ve known her almost my whole life,” Jackson said. “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.”
How did Erin Jackson end up in this position if she’s the best 500m speed skater in the world?
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.
And if she had fallen in Friday’s 500m – rather than slipped – it’s possible she could have been granted 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.”
“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.
It is still possible that Bowe will be able to compete in the 500m at the upcoming Beijing Winter Games. While the U.S. currently has only two quota spots, it is possible the American team will get a third spot once other countries officially accept or decline quota spots.
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U.S. Women’s Speed Skating Team for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics:
- Erin Jackson (500m)
- Brittany Bowe (1000m, 1500m)
- Kimi Goetz (500m, 1000m)
- Mia Manganello Kilburg (1500m, 3000m, mass start)
- Giorgia Birkeland (mass start)
Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC