Erin Jackson was all smiles on Feb. 13 when she crossed the finish line in the Beijing Olympics 500-meter speed skating event. It's the shortest race in speed skating (otherwise known as long track speed skating), and Jackson's first-place victory made history as the first time a Black woman speed skater claimed an Olympic medal, let alone gold, NBC Olympics reports. It was also reportedly the first instance since 2002 that an American woman won an individual Olympic speed skating medal and the first time since 1994 that an American woman earned 500-meter Olympic gold.
Jackson skated to gold in 37.04, 0.08 seconds in front of Japan's Miho Takagi (37.12) and 0.17 seconds ahead of the Russian Olympic Committee's Angelina Golikova (37.21). When Jackson, classified as the top-ranked skater in this event, slipped at the Olympic Trials, her teammate and friend Brittany Bowe relinquished her own 500-meter qualifying spot to her, citing that Jackson would have a better chance at a podium finish.
Bowe, who won 2021 World Championship gold in the 1,000-meter event, was allotted a chance in the 500-meter Olympic final after all when the US was given a third spot. She skated to third place in a time of 38.04, but with other athletes racing faster in the coming heats, she ultimately finished in 16th. Team USA's Kimi Goetz landed in 18th in her Olympic debut.
History is synonymous with Jackson's name. In November, the 29-year-old, who made the switch from inline skating to speed skating in 2017, became the first Black American woman to win a speed skating World Cup title — and it was in the 500-meter event no less! And back in Pyeongchang 2018, she was the first Black woman to make the US Olympic long-track speed skating team. During the 2021-2022 season, Jackson had four 500-meter World Cup wins total.
Jackson said in a post-race interview that she was feeling confident and that Bowe had a "whole lot" to do with her competing in Beijing. "I mean, like even prior to this season just being there as an awesome teammate, an awesome friend, awesome mentor, and then of course earlier this year, she helped me get on the team, period," she noted.
Jackson said after her victory, too, that she hopes the milestone she reached as the first Black woman to earn an Olympic speed skating medal is "just a stepping stone" for more athletes to come. "It would be awesome if I wasn't the first, but I'll do my best to be a good example." Ahead, check out photos from Jackson's gold-medal-winning race.
To learn more about Team USA, visit TeamUSA.org. Watch the Winter Olympics, now on NBC.