Erin Jackson: The Team USA speed skater made for the big stage

The 500m gold medallist is paving the way for a more diverse speed skating future.

4 min By Hayes Creech
Gold medallist Erin Jackson of Team USA celebrates during the women's 500m flower ceremony
(Picture by 2022 Getty Images)

Erin Jackson was destined for the big stage and to do big things.

The 29-year-old from Ocala, Florida became the first American woman since Bonnie Blair in 1994 to medal in the 500m iwhen she claimed the gold medal in speed skating on Sunday with a time of 37.04 seconds, edging out Japan’s Takagi Miho (37.12) and ROC's Angelina Golikova (37.21).

What's remarkable is that Jackson, who picked up speed skating just under five years ago, nearly didn't even make it to Beijing.

"It’s like a dream come true. I wouldn’t have predicted this even a year ago. I still feel kind of new in the sport and I’m just really grateful it turned out this way. I hope I have a longer future. I just tried to turn everything off and have an automatic race.

MORE: Olympic speed skating at Beijing 2022: Top five things to know

Bump in the road at qualifiers

A mishap during the USA Olympic Trials meant that she placed third and, despite being the World Cup leader at the time, would miss out on a spot at the Olympic Games. Until team-mate Brittany Bowe stepped in.

Bowe had won the race at trials but decided to forfeit her spot to allow Jackson to race at Beijing 2022.

"I won the tournament but I know very well how I stand in the world ranking," Bowe said. "Erin’s ranked No. 1 in the world and now she’s an Olympic champion. It was the right thing to do.

"So proud of her, I want this moment to be about her and just enjoy it. That's exactly what I told her."

MORE: Erin Jackson's gold-medal story, co-written by Brittany Bowe, is "unbelievable"

Blazing a trail

Jackson became the first Black female to win an individual gold medal at the Winter Olympics.

"Hopefully it has an effect,” Jackson said, “and we can see more minorities, especially in the USA, getting out and trying some of these winter sports. And I just always hope to be a good example, especially with helping kids see they don’t have to just choose one between schools and sport."

A serendipitous meeting at the pharmacy

Jackson has been skating almost all of her life, but she started out on roller skates.

"I started out with those little plastic skates that you attach to your shoes and I grew up what's called a 'rink rat', just like the kids who always go to the rink on the weekends, skating around to music with your friends," she told Olympics.com in an exclusive interview last year.

The trajectory leading to Jackson's speed skating fame began with a fortuitous meeting. Her mother worked as a pharmacy technician when she met Renee Hildebrand, who was coming in to get her medicines. Hildebrand is one of the leading speed skating coaches in the world. Jackson's mum told Hilderbrand about her daughter who loved nothing more than to skate and Hildebrand invited her to bring her daughter to the practice rink.

“There was a time in my second season on the ice when things weren’t going too well," Jackson said in her press conference after winning her gold medal. "My first season was OK, just getting my feet under me. "I don’t know what happened second season, everything just fell apart and I thought I’d never go fast again.

“I just listened to my coach, tried to turn it around and ended up finishing the season off pretty strong. There was a bit of doubt for a while there."

Jackon's life philosophy comes from the famous American football coach Vince Lombardi, who said: "Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence."

By her own admission, her gold-medal 500m run wasn't perfect, but what's for sure is that Jackson has caught excellence.

When and where to watch Jackson compete next at Beijing 2022

Jackson's next event at Beijing 2022 will be in the women's 1000m with a medal on the line at the National Speed Skating Oval on Thursday 17 February at 16:30 local time (9:30 CET, 00:30 PST).

From the Opening Ceremony to athlete action, here's where and how you can watch the Winter Games in your region via the Official Olympic Broadcast Partners.

Keep up with all the action in our Live Blog updates throughout Beijing 2022, here.

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