For most athletes, there’s no bigger honor than representing one's country at the Olympics. For most sports, more people watch certain disciplines during the Games than over the last four years combined. It can be especially tough for an athlete when they're favored to win a medal. But for Erin Jackson, the pressure is no problem.
Admittedly, Jackson has said she’s a little “on the weird side” when it comes to pre-race jitters. The speed skater says she actually needs the pressure to do well.
On Sunday, she won the women’s 500m event to become the first Black woman to win a speed skating medal of any color. In the context of American speed skating, it was a notable for a few reasons. She is the first American to win a speed skating gold since Shani Davis in 2010. She’s also the first American woman to win a speed skating gold since 2002 and the first American woman to win gold in the 500m since Bonnie Blair won three straight titles (1998, 1992, 1994).
In her pre-Games interview with NBC, the speed skater remarked, “I perform better under pressure” and that she feels “ready” when the pressure is highest.
The Ocala, Florida, native has said she relies on her muscle memory once the starter gun goes off. Just a few months ago, that muscle memory almost betrayed her, when at the U.S. Olympic Trials she caught a bad edge and stumbled. While she finished the race, she came in third, which at the time was not good enough to qualify for a spot at the 2022 Winter Olympics. Her teammate Brittany Bowe gave up her spot saying, “Erin has a shot to bring home a medal – hopefully a gold medal – and it’s my honor to give her that opportunity. She’s earned it and she deserves it.” Eventually, the U.S. was reallocated three spots so both Bowe and Jackson competed.
With her near-disaster at Trials, no one would blame Jackson if she were nervous. However, nerves were nowhere to be seen inside the National Speed Skating Oval. Even after she finished her race and had to wait for a final pair to see if she would be crowned Olympic champion, Jackson wasn’t nervous.
“I am a very calm person anyway, so I was just waiting and watching,” she said after her race. “There was nothing I could do.”
It’s hard to know what Jackson must have been thinking and feeling during that final pair, but she looked cool, calm and collected. Just six years after putting on skates for the first time, the World No. 1 embraced the pressure and completed the ultimate task of winning gold on the biggest of stages.