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Erin Jackson has become the first Black woman to win a speedskating medal at the Winter Olympics. A gold one, at that.
Jackson won the 500 meters Sunday with a time of 37.04 seconds, giving the American speedskating program its first speedskating medal of the Beijing Games and first individual medal since 2010.
But this one meant much more than national pride.
The 29-year-old Jackson, a former inline skater who switched to the ice shortly before the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, joined fellow American Shani Davis as the only Black athletes to win speedskating medals at the Olympics.
The silver went to Miho Takagi of Japan, while Angelina Golikova of the Russian team took the bronze.
Jackson’s gold came after the native of balmy Ocala, Florida, slipped at the U.S. trials and shockingly finished third, putting her spot on the Olympic team in jeopardy.
But teammate Brittany Bowe, who finished first at the trials, gave up her spot on the team to ensure Jackson would get to skate in Beijing.
At the time, Jackson praised Bowe, calling her an “amazing friend, teammate and mentor.”
“This is an act I’ll never forget,” she wrote. “You can bet I’ll be the loudest voice in the oval cheering for her in the 1000 and 1500 next month.”
As it turned out, the Americans received a third place in the 500 when the final allocations were made, so Bowe got to skate as well. She finished 16th.
Jackson skated in the next-to-last of 15 pairs with Takagi’s time of 37.12 – set about a half-hour earlier in the fourth pairing – in her sights.
If she was still thinking about that slip at the U.S. trials, it sure didn’t show.
Jackson bolted off the line and was under Takagi’s time as she veered into the first turn. She kept up her speed through the crossing straight and into the final turn, swinging both arms furiously as she came to the finish of speedskating’s shortest race.
As soon as her skates crossed the line, Jackson’s head turned toward the scoreboard.
She broke into a big smile when she saw the “1” beside her name. Her coach, Ryan Shimabukuro, pumped his arms and slapped hands with her as she glided by.
There was still one pairing left, but Jackson knew she could do no worse than bronze.
A few minutes later, the gold was hers.
Jackson sat on the padding along the infield, appearing to shed a few tears with her head bowed.
She was no doubt reflecting, too, on her remarkable journey.
The inline and roller derby skater knew she would have to trade her wheels for blades if she wanted to go for Olympic glory.
Making the switch just months before the Pyeongchang Games, she was such a fast study that she earned a spot on the U.S. team. She finished 24th in the 500, but it was clear that she had barely tapped into her potential.
During the current World Cup season, Jackson suddenly emerged as one of the world’s best sprinters. She won four of eight 500 races – the first Black woman to earn one of those titles, as well – and came to the Olympics as one the favorites.
She lived up to the billing in Beijing, becoming the first American woman to win an individual Olympic medal since 2002.
She grabbed an American flag and did a victory lap around the Ice Ribbon oval, the stars and stripes fluttering above her head.