BEIJING – Erin Jackson became the first black woman to win a medal in speed skating at the Winter Olympics.
Jackson won the 500-meter dash on Sunday with a time of 37.04 seconds, giving the U.S. speed skating program its first medal at the Beijing Games and its first individual medal since 2010.
But it meant much more than national pride.
The 29-year-old Jackson, a former cross-country skier who switched to ice shortly before the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, joined American Shani Davis as the only black athlete to win medals in speed skating at the Olympics.
Silver went to Miho Takagi of Japan, and Angelina Golikova of Russia took bronze.
Jackson’s gold came after a native of cute Ocala, Florida, slipped on trials in the U.S. and shockingly took third place, putting her Olympic team in jeopardy.
But teammate Brittany Bowe, who finished first in the trials, gave up her place on the team to ensure Jackson could skate in Beijing.
As it turned out, the Americans got third place in the 500 when the final calculations were made, so Bow also got the right to skate. She finished 16th.
Jackson rode in the penultimate of 15 pairs with a time of Takagi 37.12 – set about half an hour earlier in the fourth pair – in her field of vision.
If she was still thinking about this mistake in US courts, it didn’t exactly manifest itself.
Jackson strayed from the line and was during Takagi when she drew the first turn. She continued her speed through the drive straight and into the last turn, fiercely waving both hands as she approached the finish line of the shortest skating race.
As soon as her skates crossed the rice, Jackson’s head turned to the scoreboard.
She smiled broadly when she saw “1” near her name. Her coach, Ryan Simabukuro, pumped her hands and clapped her hands as she passed by.
There was one more pair left, but Jackson knew she was no worse than bronze.
A few minutes later the gold became hers.
Jackson was sitting on the platform along the yard, apparently shedding a few tears, bowing her head.
No doubt she also reflected on her wonderful journey.
The roller skater and roller skater knew she would have to trade her wheels for blades if she wanted to go to Olympic glory.
Having made the transition a few months before the Games in Pyeongchang, she studied so quickly that she won a place in the US national team. She finished 24th in the 500th, but it was clear she barely used her potential.
During the current World Cup season, Jackson suddenly became one of the best sprinters in the world. She won four of the eight 500 races – the first black woman to also win one of these titles – and came to the Olympics as one of the favorites.
She justified her bills in Beijing by becoming the first American to win an individual Olympic medal since 2002.
She grabbed the American flag and made a triumphal circle around the oval of the ice ribbon, stars and stripes hovering over her head.