When women’s 500m speed skating begins later on Sunday at 8:56 a.m. ET, the United States will have Erin Jackson, the top-ranked skater in the world in this event, on its team.
But Jackson almost didn’t even make it to the 2022 Winter Olympics, because the 29-year-old technically didn’t qualify.
Jackson, who is considered one of the favorites in the 500m event, stumbled during the U.S. Trials and came in third. Only the top two skaters earn a bid to the Olympics.
But Brittany Bowe, who came in first at trials, gave up her spot to Jackson out of “the spirit of the Olympics,” she said. According to Bowe, her best chances to medal are in the 1000m and 1500m, and Jackson “earned the right” to be in the Olympics as the world’s top-ranked 500m skater.
“Right after the race, I knew that if it came down to me relinquishing my spot for her to be named on the team, I would do that because she deserves it,” Bowe said.
SEE MORE: Erin Jackson makes history with speed skating World Cup win
And in what might be considered good karma, Bowe is going to race in the 500m after all thanks to some logistics. The International Skating Union’s final reallocation of places granted a third sprint quota spot to the United States, which went to the 33-year-old Bowe.
Jackson said she “had a job to do and I failed to do it, plain and simple.” She didn’t feel completely comfortable agreeing with Bowe that she deserved to be in the Olympics, because “technically I didn’t qualify.”
“Sure, I had a really great season, but when it came to crunch time, I made a mistake,” Jackson said. “I am very fortunate that she is a very selfless person and she would do something like this for me.”
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But instead of Jackson feeling guilty about taking Bowe’s spot in the Olympics, or Bowe having any regrets about relinquishing her place, both of them will race for a medal on Sunday.
“When she first told me she would have my back, I hugged her and hugged her, and as I hugged her, I was trying not to cry,” Jackson said. “It was a flood of emotions, where you don’t really know what you feel.”
Looking for history
Jackson is looking to keep making history with her fresh opportunity. During the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, she became the first Black woman to compete for the United States in long track speed skating. Last November, she was the first Black woman to win a World Cup speed skating race — the first of four World Cup wins that led her to the world’s top ranking heading into the Olympics.
“I hope I can be an example,” Jackson said. “I would love to see more people of color in all the winter sports. It helps to have some visibility out there, to see other people like you doing something maybe you’d never thought about doing before.”
SEE MORE: Erin Jackson leads U.S. speed skating into Winter Olympics
Jackson began roller skating at age 8. She idolized Bowe, a five-time world champion and eight-time inline world champion who is also from Florida. Like Bowe, Jackson first competed in inline speed skating before moving to the ice in September 2017. In just a few months, she qualified for her first Olympics, where she finished 24th.
This time, no longer a wide-eyed newbie, Jackson is looking for gold. Thanks to Bowe, she has a chance for her first medal.
“I have got a taste of gold medals this season and I don’t want to stop getting them,” Jackson said. “I definitely have my eye on the top.”