Over the last couple of years, female athletes have continued to make history in their sports and break what felt like impossible barriers during both the summer and winter Games. During the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which took place last summer, Simone Biles not only made headlines for her dedication to mental health and being its advocate on one of the world’s largest stages but for becoming the most accomplished American gymnast in history.
During the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, athletes faced trials and tribulations, and controversy spread through some events. Still, it was also a global event with multiple heartwarming and history-making elements.
One of the athletes who proved immense prowess in her sport was speed skater Erin Jackson, who made history three times with her gold medal this month. Not only did she become the first American woman to win gold in the 500m race in nearly 30 years, but she also became the first Black woman to win a speed skating medal and the first Black woman to win a gold medal for an individual event during the Winter Games.
Who is Erin Jackson?
Before she was a gold medal-winning Olympic speed skater, Jackson was a roller skater. Hailing from Ocala, Florida, the athlete was drawn to roller skating from a young age. In 2002, the now 29-year-old pursued inline skating before eventually getting into roller derby just ten years later. When 2017 came along, Jackson dove head first into long-track speed skating and hasn’t looked back since.
Today, not only is she a member of Team USA for long track speed skating, but she also has a spot on the U.S. National Team for all three sports, another trifecta she’s accomplished in her career.
Almost immediately after making the change from inline skating to speed skating, Jackson qualified for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics when she finished third in the 500m. However, when it came time for the final event, Jackson ultimately placed 24th, a marked change from her recent gold medal win.
“I wish I could describe how I feel. It is amazing. This medal means so much,” Jackson told reporters after her big win this year. “It has been a tough couple of years and a tough beginning for this year. So for this to come around like this, I am so happy.”
Leading up to the Olympics
Before scoring gold at the 2022 Winter Games, Jackson wasn’t any stranger to making history in her career and the sport, either. In November last year, the Olympian became the first Black American woman to win at the ISU Speed Skating World Cup. Before she placed on top at the World Cup, her previous best World Cup finish was only ninth place. She was also the first Black woman to compete on the national long-track speed skating team and the first to qualify in 2018 for Team USA on the long-track speed skating team at the Olympics.
It certainly wasn’t an easy journey for Jackson leading up to these Winter Games, which kicked off on February 4. During the speed skating trials last month, Jackson slipped during the 500m long-track and ended up placing third, seemingly thwarting her chances at making her mark on the Olympics this year despite being ranked first in the world. That wasn’t the end of the road for the athlete, though.
Her longtime friend and teammate Brittany Bowe finished first in the long-track final and qualified in other events for the then-forthcoming Winter Games. Given her other opportunities to compete at the games, Bowe decided to give up her spot in the 500m event to none other than Jackson so her teammate would have a chance to compete at this year’s Olympics.
Bowe made her Olympic history during one of the two events she qualified for. Four days after Jackson won the gold, Bowe took home a bronze medal in the 1,000m, the event in which she is a current record holder. Bows became the first American woman to win an award in that specific event in two decades by snagging bronze.