Erin Jackson ended a drought of U.S. speedskating medals by taking first place in the women’s 500-meter race Sunday, becoming the first African American woman to win gold or any medal in the sport. It is also the first medal for an American speedskater in Beijing and the first individual speedskating medal won by an American since the 2010 Vancouver Games.

“I think I kind of blacked out,” said her teammate Brittany Bowe, who also competed in the race. “I screamed so loud I almost passed out.”

Jackson, 29, was the dominant 500-meter skater in the world this year, winning four of the eight races contested at World Cup events and winning a medal in two others. Her time, 37.04, was the third-fastest 500 meters skated at a sea-level oval.

Her gold in Beijing comes a little over four years after she transitioned to speedskating from in-line skating. She qualified for the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics after only four months of training, finishing 24th in the 500 meters there.

While she is much more comfortable on the ice than she was in 2018, Jackson is still relatively new to the sport. “I still have a bit of fear when it comes to skating on the ice,” she said in December. “I don’t have a lot of trust in myself and the blades, the ice and definitely the people around me.”

But any discomfort is masked by her explosive speed. The 500 meters is the shortest race in speedskating: just one straightaway and then a lap around the oval. Jackson is a good starter, but she is great at maintaining her speed during the lap. She had the second-fastest opener and the fastest lap in winning her medal.

Advertising

“She has really good technique. She has really, really strong hips, and she keeps them stable and steady when she skates,” said Kimi Goetz, an American who finished 18th in the race.

Goetz added, “She is putting so much power into the ice, and she is just super fast.”

Miho Takagi of Japan won silver, and Angelina Golikova of Russia took the bronze.

Jackson is part of a stable of American skaters, including Bowe and Joey Mantia, who are from the surprising speedskating hotbed of Ocala, Florida. Renee Hildebrand coached all in in-line skating before they moved to the ice. It is a well-worn path for American skaters, like Olympic medalists Chad Hedrick and Derek Parra, because in-line is not an Olympic sport.

Jackson’s participation in Beijing almost ended before it began. During the Olympic trials in Milwaukee in January, she slipped in her race and finished third, with the United States having just two entries in the 500 meters at the Olympics. Bowe, who is better at the 1,000 meters and 1,500 meters but finished first in the 500 meters at the trials, gave up her spot to Jackson.

Bowe’s sacrifice was ultimately unnecessary, as the United States was later awarded a third Olympic entry in the event after a complicated process of reallocating spots. She finished 16th.

Speedskating has historically produced the most medals at the Winter Olympics for the United States, but they have been hard to come by recently. Americans did not win any medals in the sport at the Sochi Games in 2014, a debacle that devolved into arguments about the skin suits worn by athletes and a high-altitude training camp before the low-altitude Games. The only speedskating medal that the Americans won in 2018 was a bronze in the women’s team pursuit.

“We need that bad,” Bowe said of Jackson’s victory Sunday.