Erin Jackson on Beijing Olympics: ‘I feel like it’s the beginning’

Erin Jackson at the 2022 Winter Olympics
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BEIJING (AP) — Erin Jackson shocked herself by making the U.S. Olympic team four years ago. Barely confident of staying upright after just four months on the ice, she was just happy to be in Pyeongchang. Now, she’s the favorite for speedskating gold in Beijing.

“This time around I’m coming in swinging and I’ve got my sights set,” she said.

The former inline and roller derby skater from balmy Ocala, Florida, has made huge strides since 2018, when she finished 24th in the 500 meters in South Korea.

Jackson became the first Black woman to win a World Cup race in November. She took four of this season’s eight races in the 500, medaled in two others and is No. 1 in the world in the sprint race, which seemingly made her a lock for the Olympic team.

A slip of her blade nearly did her in. She stumbled mid-race at the U.S. trials in early January and finished third. Only the top two were guaranteed berths, leaving Jackson sleepless that night wondering if her dream had been dashed.

Brittany Bowe wouldn’t hear of it. Bowe, a close friend of Jackson, gave up her spot in the 500. Bowe will compete in the event on Sunday, too, after the U.S. picked up a third quota spot.

How to watch Erin Jackson compete in speed skating at the 2022 Winter Olympics:

Speed Skating Event Date/Time (U.S. Eastern) Date/Time (Beijing)
Women’s 500m 2/13/22 8:00 AM 2/13/22 9:00 PM

No American woman has won the 500 since Bonnie Blair claimed three straight Olympic titles from 1988-1994. The last individual medal of any kind by a U.S. woman came in 2002.

“Erin is absolutely on the top of her game now,” Bowe said. “I cannot wait to see what she has in store.”

Neither can coach Renee Hildebrand, who will be watching from Florida.

Jackson and Bowe, along with teammate Joey Mantia, are all from Ocala and grew up training as inline skaters on two wheels under Hildebrand before transitioning to ice.

“Erin’s technique is still not what she wants it to be on ice,” Hildebrand said. “She’s really quick right now. Eventually, she’s going to be really quick and really good with her technique. I think she will break some records.”

Jackson began skating at age 10, quickly transforming into a self-described rink rat. She looked up to Bowe, who at 33 is four years older.

“This just makes it so much sweeter,” Jackson said of Bowe’s gesture. “It makes it 10 times more awesome.”

MORE SPEED SKATING COVERAGE: Erin Jackson will compete at Olympics after teammate Bowe gives up spot (video)

Jackson’s stumble is one of several obstacles she has overcome. In 2019, she endured back problems. Then she missed the entire 2020-21 season because of COVID-19 quarantines for being a close contact and because of an eye injury caused by a bungee cord snapping loose.

Through it all, Jackson kept the same composure she showed after her slip at trials.

“She’s a class act through everything,” said Matt Kooreman, national sprint coach for US Speedskating.

Jackson describes herself as more of a student than an athlete. She certainly has the credentials, having graduated with honors from the University of Florida in 2015 with a degree in materials science and engineering. She earned an associate’s degree in computer science and is working toward another associate’s in kinesiology.

“I couldn’t imagine not taking every opportunity I can to better my education,” she said. “I value education so much.”

Jackson took a year off from classes to prepare for the Olympics, but she’s missing the academic grind.

“I’m better all around when I’m a little busier,” she said. “Right now, I feel like I’ve gotten really lazy.”

MORE ON ERIN JACKSON’S SUCCESS: Speed skater Erin Jackson sprints to first career World Cup win (video)

Among her many goals is increasing diversity in a sport dominated by white athletes. She has reached out to Edge Outdoors, a Washington state non-profit that provides scholarships to cultivate women of color in snow sports, about possibly starting a Utah chapter.

“Young girls are writing to her. She’s enjoying that part of it now,” Hildebrand said. “She’s understanding that she can make history in more ways than one. We need more diversity in our sport, both inline and on ice. To see skaters of all different colors would be great.”

The racial reckoning that took hold in the U.S. after George Floyd was murdered by police in 2020 helped lay the groundwork for change decades in the making in sports. Jackson has her own thoughtful approach.

“I stay out of all the things that are going on like that. I feel that, of course, because it’s something you can’t really escape,” she said. “But I try to help by being a positive example. There’s a lot of negativity in the world and I try to fight it by being an example of something good.”

One of her inspirations is her 72-year-old father, Tracy. He moved to Salt Lake City from Florida last June to live with his only daughter. Her mother, Rita, died in 2011 when Jackson was a senior in high school.

“He means a lot to me,” Jackson said. “I’ve always been a daddy’s girl. Just having his love here and now, it’s like I never left.”

Jackson’s evolution from the rough-and-tough pack skating of roller derby on four wheels to racing on blades in a pair against the clock has been gradual. Her coach Ryan Shimabukuro got her biking, lifting weights and dry-land training, things she’d never done as an inliner.

“The ice is so much more technical,” Shimabukuro said. “You make one mistake, you can lose 10 spots, especially in the 500 meters where the smallest margin is a thousandth of a second.”

Jackson has proven a quick study, to the point where Shimabukuro has had to tell her to knock off wearing herself out.

“She’s a game-day racer,” he said. “That’s one of her biggest attributes. No matter what the situation is on the day of the race she can up her level.”

A lifelong learner, Jackson figures she’s still early in her education on ice.

“I can’t see myself stopping now when I’m just figuring out what I’m doing,” she said. “I feel like it’s the beginning.”

MORE SPEED SKATING COVERAGE: Speed skater Wuest is first athlete to win individual gold at five Olympics

Kaillie Humphries elevates another fresh U.S. face to podium status in two-woman bobsled World Cup

Kaillie Humphries of USA, Kaysha Love of USA in action at the 2 women's bobsleigh during Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games.
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PARK CITY, UTAH – Kaillie Humphries extended her podium streak on Saturday at the IBSF World Cup, where she and U.S. push athlete Jasmine Jones finished third in the two-woman bobsled.

The third-place finish in Park City marked the sixth podium for Humphries at the Park City track, which hosted the 2002 Olympics, and was Jones’ career-first World Cup podium in just her second World Cup start.

“This is our first race together, so really excited about that,” said the 37-year-old Humphries, considered the greatest female driver in history with three Olympic gold medals (2010, 2014 and 2022) and five world championships titles. She earned her 29th career World Cup win on Friday in Park City in the women’s monobob.

“Definitely a work in progress. … The runs weren’t perfect, but I’m really happy with our starts, happy with our drives minus a few little mistakes. It’s a good starting point, and we’ll look to grow from here.”

Humphries and Jones finished with a combined, two-run time of 1:37.69, 0.32 behind winners Kim Kalicki and brakewoman Leonie Fiebig of Germany at 1:37.37. Fellow Germans Laura Nolte and Lena Neunecker were second at 0.23 back.

Kalicki and Fiebig broke a 16-year-old track record with their first run, laying down a time of 48.60 seconds and besting the time set by Americans Shauna Rohbock and Valerie Fleming – the 2006 Olympic silver medalists – in December 2006 (48.73). It also marked the second straight victory for Kalicki, who’s won five career World Cup titles including last week’s two-woman bobsled race in Whistler, Canada.

“I was hoping Kaillie would get [the record],” said Rohbock, who is now a U.S. team coach and was on hand to see her record fall. “That first run there, she had that little skid in the bottom, so that didn’t help, but Kailee’s always putting up a great performance. And Jasmine, another great brakewoman, so we’re really lucky that we have that depth.”

For Team USA, it marked the second straight week that a fresh face earned her first podium finish while competing with Humphries. Last week in Whistler, push athlete Emily Renna and Humphries placed third in Renna’s first-ever World Cup appearance.

MORE IBSF WORLD CUP COVERAGE: Kelly Curtis notches career-best finish with top five at Park City skeleton World Cup

“Being able to race with her was really special,” said the 29-year-old Renna, who was a college track athlete at University of Rhode Island. “It’s really nice to be around seasoned veterans. It definitely makes you feel better in the back sled with you when you’ve got a good pilot who knows the track.”

Renna finished in eighth place in Park City with 12-year U.S. team veteran and pilot Nicole Vogt (1:39.04). Vogt partnered with Jones in her first World Cup last week where they finished seventh in Whistler, 1.33 seconds behind winners Kalicki and German teammate Anabel Galander.

“To have an opportunity to be with Kaillie in my World Cup debut – it’s exciting,” said the 26-year-old Jones, who was a collegiate track and field athlete at Eastern Michigan. “I just feel like I have so much more in the tank to give, and I’m just hungry for it.”

Jones is particularly gratified with her performance after returning full-time to bobsled less than 18 months ago following the birth of her daughter, Jade Quinn Jones, in February 2021. The Greensburg, Pa., native returned to training just five months postpartum, having sat out the 2020-21 season. She competed on the North American Cup last year, finishing the season with a win (the third NA Cup title of her career) and a third place in Lake Placid.

“I’m thankful,” said Jones. “Opportunity is the main thing, and I just feel blessed to have my first World Cup podium. I’m screaming on the inside. I may not show it, but I am jumping for joy because I’m just that excited and happy to have this accomplishment.”

She admits, however, it’s not always easy to compete balance a full-time competitive career with being a mom.

“Sometimes it’s a struggle being away from my daughter,” said Jones, whose mom takes care of Jade while she travels. “I try to get my facetimes in every night and just know that when I’m pushing, I’m doing it for her. Hopefully sometime in the future I’ll have her around on the sidelines cheering me on, and that’s my main motivation – that this is for her.”

The BMW IBSF World Cup continues its North American swing Dec. 16-18 in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Kaillie Humphries faces IVF journey head on — and collects monobob World Cup win along the way

Gold medallist Kaillie Humphries of Team United States celebrates during the Women's Monobob.
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PARK CITY, UTAH — Kaillie Humphries knew the quest to start a family would impact her 2022-23 season, but it’s certainly not slowing down Team USA’s reigning monobob Olympic gold medalist, who captured her first World Cup title in the discipline on Friday.

The 37-year-old Humphries, considered the greatest female driver in history with three Olympic golds (2010, 2014 and 2022) and five world championships, earned her 29th career World Cup win and her third victory on the Park City track, where she won the two-woman bobsled competitions in 2012 and 2016. Competing in Utah – as well as North American World Cup stops in Whistler last week and in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Dec. 17-18 – is one of the reasons that Humphries pushed pause on her journey to motherhood.

“I’m excited,” Humphries said following the win, marking her second straight podium in monobob following a third-place finish last week in Whistler. “I was excited for this year before it started. It’s part and parcel of why my husband and I delayed the IVF process and starting a family this season. To be able to be back in North America and have the first half of the season here – it’s been a long time since we’ve had that, so I wanted to be able to compete and it feels awesome.”

That’s not to say the leadup to this season has been without its share of hiccups. In fact, Humphries admits that following the Beijing Olympics, she had hoped to get pregnant immediately, but she and husband Travis Armbruster had to pivot when a diagnosis of stage 4 endometriosis made it clear that in vitro fertilization would be the best path for pregnancy.

“Right after the Olympics, I was like, ‘We’re going to get pregnant; it’s gonna be all good,’” she said. “I thought, my body has always performed, and it wasn’t going to be an issue. Fast forward to I find out we have to do IVF. We do the first egg retrieval, and it doesn’t go as well as I had hoped — which anybody that’s done this process knows, you can’t control any aspect of it. And so having to do a second round of egg retrieval, …it pushed everything back.”

What’s more, it brought Humphries’ training to a standstill at times, when she would have to limit all physical activity during the three-week period surrounding the egg-retrieval process.

“It impacted my training coming into this year a lot,” she says, “but I also think it definitely reset my hormones, which turns out I needed. I don’t think was a bad thing. I knew coming into this year, I wasn’t going to be in the same shape as I have been in the past, and I had to make peace with that. I know that each and every race I’m racing myself into shape, and each race is a preparation for January’s World Championships.”

Humphries also chose to share her IVF journey publicly, and she’s documented every step of the way, believing that her story makes it less scary not just for her but also for other women and female athletes who might be facing the same thing.

MORE IBSF WORLD CUP: Kelly Curtis notches career-best finish with top five at Park City skeleton World Cup

“My husband and I weren’t sure that we wanted to share it at first,” she admits. “But I felt it was important just to showcase this. I have nothing to hide. And as much as there are parts of me certain days when I think, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ At the end of the day, I know I’m not alone in this.

“It’s important, I do have a voice, and I want other people to know, as an Olympic gold medalist, if it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody. Infertility exists in the female body, and it’s important that I talk about it in my journey and hopefully that’s inspired other people.”

She says she’s received an outpouring of support, which has been particularly gratifying as she continues to put a painful breakup with Team Canada in the rearview mirror. Humphries, who was born in Calgary, competed for Canada for 16 years, winning three Olympic medals including a bronze in Pyeongchang in 2018. But the relationship came to an abrupt end later just five months after the 2018 Games, after Humphries alleged emotional and mental harassment by a former coach.

Winning a gold medal in Beijing just two months after her U.S. citizenship was finalized proved to be turning point for Humphries, who commemorated the milestone with two new tattoos. She first added the date of her win – Feb. 14, 2022 – to the back of her left hand and a larger rose and skull illustration to the back of her right knee and calf, all of which commemorate her triumph over that darker period.

“The skull represents a rebirth and a growth, overcoming challenges and/or obstacles and turning something negative into something positive,” explains Humphries, who says she chose the rose because it’s the national flower of the U.S. as well as a symbol of love won or lost. She notes that she has “an actual Olympic one” planned for August 2024, which is when her favorite tattoo artist is next available.

Humphries has also found the silver lining in her IVF journey, as the competition season has been a welcome break from some of the self-imposed pressure.

“By pushing pause for four or five months and competing, it allowed me mentally to know that we can go into all of next summer and all winter focusing on just doing the actual embryo transfers and having a good pregnancy,” she says. “I don’t feel stressed to try and get pregnant right away. I felt like I was becoming competitive with myself, wondering why isn’t this working? Why can’t I do this? I tried to control too many things, and I started to get really frustrated. Mentally, it was hard. So, by pushing pause, going back to what I know — which is the sport, which is what I love – it’s allowed me to control a little bit of my future.”

Humphries’ season continues Saturday as the IBSF World Cup from Park City concludes with the two-woman bobsleigh.