The world’s top-ranked woman in 500-meter speed skating is headed to the Olympics to represent America. Erin Jackson, 29, made history in 2018 as the first Black woman to make the U.S. Olympic team in long-track speed skating only four months after picking up the sport. She made history again in November as the first American Black woman to win a World Cup speed skating event.
With this context in mind, it should come as no shock that she’ll be representing the U.S. in Beijing in February — and yet, the circumstances that brought her to this point were extraordinary.
After a devastating slip in Jackson’s 500m signature event at qualifiers, she finished third — one spot behind the necessary finish to go to the Olympics, despite being the No. 1-ranked woman in the world in the event. This was until teammate Brittany Bowe announced that she would give up her spot in the event to allow Jackson to qualify and go to Beijing.
“This is bigger than just me. This is the Olympic Games,” Bowe told the Wall Street Journal. “This is about Team USA, and it’s about giving everybody an opportunity to showcase what they have. [Erin has] earned the right to be there, and I cannot wait to see what she has in store in Beijing.”
Bowe will be still competing in the 1000m, for which she holds the world record, and the 1500m, for which she holds the American record, in what will be her third winter Olympics.
“Definitely not the way I imagined qualifying for my second Olympic team…I’m incredibly grateful and humbled by the kindness of @BrittanyBowe in helping me secure a chance at reaching my goals in #Beijing2022,” Jackson wrote on Twitter. “She’s an amazing friend, teammate, and mentor and this is an act I’ll never forget. You can bet I’ll be the loudest voice in the oval cheering for her.”
If Jackson medals, she’ll be the first American Black woman to medal in long-track speed skating in Olympic history.
During a time where it’s almost too easy to be cynical about the Olympics as an institution and everything they’re willing to overlook in order to have The Games exactly as they want them, it’s nice to get one of those reminders of what the Olympics are really (at least, purportedly) meant to be about — sportsmanship, representing one’s country, watching the best athletes in the world go head-to-head, and a sense of both national and international unity for a few moments.