When women’s 500m speed skating begins later on Sunday at 8:56 a.m. ET, the United States will be represented by Erin Jackson -- the top-ranked 500m skater in the world.
Jackson wasn't even supposed to be at the 2022 Winter Olympics; the 29-year-old technically didn't qualify.
Considered one of the favorites in the 500m, Jackson stumbled during the U.S. Trials and finished third. Only the top two skaters earn a bid to the Olympics.
But Brittany Bowe, who came in first at Olympic Trials, decided to give up her spot out of “the spirit of the Olympics,” to allow Jackson the opportunity to compete. According to Bowe, her best chances to win a 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.
"I'm incredibly grateful and humbled by the kindness of Brittany Bowe in helping me to secure a chance at reaching my goals," Jackson said in an Instagram post. "She's an amazing friend, teammate, and mentor and this is an act I'll never forget."
“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.
In a karmic twist of fate, Bowe will end up competing in the 500m after all. The International Skating Union’s final reallocation of places granted a third sprint quota spot to the United States -- which, naturally, 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.”
But instead of Jackson feeling guilty about taking Bowe’s spot at 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 looks to keep making history with her fresh opportunity. During the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, she became the first Black woman to compete for the United States in 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.”
Jackson began roller skating at 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 prospecting for gold. And thanks to Bowe, she has a chance to earn 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.”