Four years ago, Erin Jackson was just happy to be here.
On Sunday night, she was celebrating gold.
The 29-year-old former inline skater won the women’s 500 meters at the National Speed Skating Oval with a time of 37.04, earning her first Olympic medal in what has been her best event. She also makes history as the first Black woman to win an Olympic medal in speedskating, according to The Associated Press.
Jackson arrived in Beijing as the top-ranked skater in the world in the 500 but, in a twist of fate, almost didn’t make it here in the first place.
An unusual slip during her race at the U.S. Olympic trials left her in third place, with only two Americans guaranteed to qualify. In a heartwarming gesture, teammate Brittany Bowe, who finished ahead of Jackson but does not consider the 500 to be her best event, agreed to forfeit her spot on the team to allow Jackson to compete.
(The U.S. later received a third quota spot at the distance, enabling Bowe to compete as well.)
Both Jackson and Bowe originally started out as inline speedskaters in Ocala, Florida – a town of about 60,000 people between Orlando and Gainesville that does not have a year-round ice rink. Both eventually switched to ice in hopes of one day making it to the Olympics. (Another U.S. speedskater, Joey Mantia, is also from Ocala and started out as a skater on pavement and concrete.)
For Jackson, the move to ice did not come until just five years ago, after she graduated from the University of Florida with an engineering degree.
After prioritizing her education for so much of her life, Jackson decided to give the ice a try because she didn’t want to be left wondering “what if.” She surprisingly qualified for the Olympic team in 2018 but finished well outside medal contention at the Pyeongchang Games.
Tom Schad | USA TODAY