BEIJING, CHINA - FEBRUARY 13: Gold medallist Erin Jackson of Team United States celebrates during the Women's 500m flower ceremony on day nine of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at National Speed Skating Oval on February 13, 2022 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)
Erin Jackson has ended the United States’ individual medal drought in speed skating, surging to a historic Olympic gold in the women’s 500m.
The former roller derby skater from Ocala, Florida, who went off in the penultimate pair from the inside lane on Sunday night, completed the all-out sprint for one and a quarter laps of the oval in a time of 37.04sec to move into gold medal position. After the final pair came up short, Jackson embraced her coach then sat on the padding along the infield crying tears of jubilation.
The 29-year-old Jackson, a former inline skater who made the US team for the 2018 Olympics after only four months on the ice, is believed to be the first Black woman to win gold in any individual event at the Winter Games.
“Hopefully, this has an effect,” Jackson said. “Hopefully, we’ll see more minorities, especially in the USA, getting out and trying these winter sports. I just hope to be a good example.”
Japanese all-rounder Miho Takagi, who finished second in the 1500m on Monday, added another silver to her Beijing haul after serving notice early with a time of 37.12sec that held up until Jackson. Angelina Golikova of the Russian Olympic Committee came in 0.09sec behind Takagi for the bronze.
“I wish I could describe how I feel,” said Jackson, whose gold marks Team USA’s first individual speed skating medal of any color in 12 years and the first by an American woman since 2002. “It is amazing. This medal means so much. It has been a tough couple of years and a tough beginning for this year. For this to come around like this I am so happy.”
Jackson, the top-ranked 500m sprinter in the world with four wins in eight World Cup races this season, thought her Olympic dream was dashed after a fall at last month’s US trials in Milwaukee appeared to cost her a place on the team, only for her friend Brittany Bowe to donate Jackson her spot.
Bowe, the reigning world champion in the 1000m, was able to skate in Sunday’s final after all when several nations returned their quota spots. She finished 16th.
“I think I kind of blacked out,” Bowe said of celebrating Jackson’s victory. “I screamed so loud I almost passed out.”
Jackson is one of three US speed skating team-mates, along with Bowe and Joey Mantia, to hail from Ocala, the central Florida city with no ice rink which has become an improbable speed skating hotbed. All three got their start there and trained under the same youth coach, Renee Hildebrand, who didn’t make the trip to Beijing.
Her win on Sunday marked the United States’ first in the 500m since Bonnie Blair won three straight from 1988 through 1994. Their 30 gold medals across all speed skating events are second only to the Netherlands, who have won 46.
“It’s been a big roller coaster,” Jackson said. “There’s been happiness, stress, happiness. It’s been a wild ride but this [gold] makes it even sweeter.”