Erin Jackson became the first Black woman to win a gold medal for Winter Olympic speedskating or any medal, for that matter, in the event.
On Sunday, Jackson won the 500 meters with a time of 37.04 seconds, which gave Team USA their first speedskating medal in Beijing, and the first individual medal since 2010.
But despite the win awarding a medal to the American program, this was about more than national pride. This was a win for the Black community, specifically Black women.
Jackson, 29, was a former inline rollerblader when she transitioned to the ice in 2018 and joined fellow American, Shani Davis, as the only Black athletes to win speedskating at the Olympics.
The native of Ocala, Florida, almost did not compete in the Beijing Olympics when she slipped at the U.S. trials and placed third. Her teammate, friend, and mentor Brittany Bowe, who finished first in the trials, gave her spot up to Jackson, stating, “She deserves it. It was the right thing to do.”
“She made a really big sacrifice for me,” Jackson said. “I’ll be grateful to her forever.”
Jackson darted off the starting line and kept up her speed as she crossed the straight and continued into the last turn of the race.
As soon as her skates crossed the finish line, her head veered towards the scoreboard.
She didn’t think about her mishap at the U.S. trials. “It’s not something to really focus on,” Jackson said. “That was a fluke.”
A smile crossed her face, once she saw the “1” next to her name.
Although there was still one more pairing left, with the time she received, she knew she couldn’t get less than a bronze.
Soon enough, she received the gold.
“You’re an Olympic champion,” her coach Ryan Shimabukuro said to her.
She skated to the padding on the infield and shed a few tears with her head bowed.
The former inline and roller derby skater reflected on her exceptional journey, “It’s been a wild ride,” she said, “but that makes it even sweeter.”
“Words cannot explain how proud I am of her,” Bowe said. “I knew she had the chance to do something really special, and she just showed the world why she deserved to be here.”
Jackson grabbed the American flag, and skated around the Ice Ribbon Oval, with the national symbol flowing over her head.
“Hopefully, this has an effect,” Jackson said. “Hopefully, we’ll see more minorities, especially in the USA, getting out and trying these winter sports.”
Her coach, Ryan Shimabukuro, said Jackson “proves there’s no barriers when it comes to diversity.”
Jackson’s journey to victory proves the resilience of Black women when challenges arise. And with the Winter Olympics being notorious for their lack of diversity, Jackson has paved the way for young Black women to participate (and succeed) in sports that weren’t made for us.
As a Black woman, this story is monumental. I am extremely proud of Erin Jackson, and this story speaks volumes on the truth that we are headed in the right direction to creating a more diverse and equitable space in the Olympics.