Erin Jackson goes from Ocala Cannibals to U.S. Olympic team

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WEST ALLIS, Wis. (AP) — Erin Jackson surprised herself and almost everyone else at the U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Trials, becoming an Olympian after just four months on ice.

Coming from inline skating, Jackson qualified in the 500m by finishing third behind Sochi Olympians Brittany Bowe and Heather Bergsma.

Bowe had the fastest time over two heats Friday night. She was quicker in her first run around the big oval, clocking 37.95 seconds. Her second run was 38.18.

Bergsma also was quicker in her first heat at 38.24. Her second trip was 38.42.

Jackson was just the opposite.

The 25-year-old from Ocala, Fla. (same hometown as Bowe and another Olympic skater, Joey Mantia), went 39.22 in her first heat. She was even better in her second run, going 39.04.

“I really wasn’t expecting any of this, just coming in as a newbie, just trying to do the best I can,” she said, smiling. “I still don’t even know.”

Jackson becomes the third black athlete to make the U.S. Olympic speed skating team. She joins fellow long-tracker Shani Davis and short-tracker Maame Biney, who is originally from Ghana.

Jackson is a former University of Florida engineering student and roller derby player for the Ocala Cannibals and Jacksonville RollerGirls.

Bowe and Bergsma had already earned spots in PyeongChang by finishing one-two in the 1000m, so doubling up in another event cleared the way for Jackson to join them.

Her previous personal best was 39.51 set Dec. 23 in the high altitude of Salt Lake City.

“A couple weeks ago, I was still in the 40s,” Jackson said. “I think I hadn’t even broken 40 [seconds] yet, so it’s all happened really fast.”

Bowe is a former inline skater from Ocala, and has been a teammate of Jackson’s for several years.

“She’s improving dramatically every time she steps on that ice,” Bowe said. “She’s at a point now where she can make those huge gains, so to see that two races in a row out here when the pressure is the highest is really promising for her and the sprint program for Team USA.”

On the men’s side, Mitch Whitmore added the 500m to his schedule after making his third Olympic team in the 1000m.

He skated fastest in his first heat at 35.06. But Whitmore had slow reactions in both heats.

“I’ve got a lot of room for improvement still,” he said. “It’s more stressful here than at World Cups or other big competitions just because you have to make the team and there’s expectations of being a favorite going into this competition.”

Jonathan Garcia made his second Olympic team by finishing second at 35.22 after missing out in the 1000m earlier in the week.

Kimani Griffin, a former inliner, was third at 35.26 and is expected to make the team depending on other skaters doubling up in events.

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MORE: U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Trials TV Schedule

Davis, Richardson win 1000m at speed skating trials; redemption for Garcia

Shani Davis
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Shani Davis left no doubt in the 1000m Sunday, one day after a strange disqualification allowed him to qualify for the Olympics in the 500m.

Jonathan Garcia, whose personal best skate was wiped out because he didn’t wear ankle transponders Saturday, is also likely headed to the Sochi Olympics in the 1000m.

Davis won the 1000m at the U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Trials, clinching a berth in Sochi, where he could become the first American man to win a single Winter Olympic event three straight times. Davis took gold in the 1000m at the 2006 and 2010 Games.

Garcia was fourth in the 1000m, an event where the U.S. can send a maximum of four skaters to Sochi. His place on the U.S. Olympic Team is not yet assured, but he’s in a qualifying position. The full Olympic speed skating team is expected to be announced later this week.

Heather Richardson picked up her second win in as many days at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns, Utah, capturing the women’s 1000m ahead of Brittany Bowe. They also went one-two in the 500m on Saturday.

The U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Trials continue, after a day off, with the men’s and women’s 1500m on Tuesday. Davis, Richardson and Bowe are favorites in that distance, too.

Davis won the 1000m in 1 minute, 7.52 seconds. Brian Hansen was second in 1:07.53, followed by Joey Mantia (1:07.88) and Garcia (1:07.95).

Davis has won three of four World Cup 1000m races this season after taking third at the Sochi Olympic venue at the World Single Distance Championships on March 22. He and snowboarders Shaun White and Seth Wescott are vying to be the first American man to win a single Olympic event three times.

“I don’t allow it to weigh on me,” Davis said on NBC. “I simply want to go there, do my best. If I’m the best man that given day, I’ll be more than happy to take home a gold medal and add to my collection. If not, I tried my best, and that’s the best I can do.

“I think I’m skating pretty good. I think the best is still yet to come.”

On Saturday, Davis was fourth in the 500m but would have been outside of Olympic qualifying position if not for Garcia’s disqualification for not wearing ankle timing transponders.

Garcia, who would have originally been fourth, finished sixth in the 500m after his reskate. The U.S. can send a maximum of four men in the 500m and 1000m to the Olympics.

Garcia wore transponders Sunday, evidenced when he waved them in the air after he realized he finished fourth after the final pair crossed.

“I don’t think it’s set in yet,” said Garcia, who joked about his disqualification on NBC. “I didn’t really let it get to me. I was really surprised. Usually, stuff like that shakes me pretty well. But I didn’t really think about. In my mind, I truly believe that I made that [500m] team. I skated fast enough to be on the team. I left here yesterday feeling accomplished. I made it on my own speed. Not having my transponders yesterday didn’t affect my time.”

Hansen, a 2010 Olympian who was third in the 500m on Saturday, could also win a medal in Sochi. He took bronze behind Davis in the first two World Cup races this season.

Mantia, a former inline world champion, is also in the mix but may be better in the 1500m. He shaved .76 off his personal best in the 1000m on Sunday.

In the women’s race, Richardson (1:13.22) and Bowe (1:13.92) were followed by Sugar Todd and Kelly Gunther.

Richardson could take Olympic gold in this event given she’s won three of four World Cup races this year. Bowe took the fourth in a world-record time.

The U.S. has not won a women’s speed skating medal at the Olympics since 2002.

“I think it’s very likely to change,” Richardson said of the drought on NBC. “I think this is the piece to put the whole puzzle together in Sochi.”

Todd, who also qualified third in the 500m on Saturday, skated a personal best 1:15.72.

For fourth, Gunther edged three-time Olympian Elli Ochowicz with a personal best 1:16.43. Ochowicz was .08 slower, finishing fifth for the second straight day in two events where the U.S. can send a maximum of four women to Sochi.

Gunther agonizingly missed the 2010 Olympic team due to another skater’s reskate. One month after the Vancouver Games, she suffered a double compound fracture of a bone just below her left ankle in a skating crash at the Utah Olympic Oval. The cut was so deep, and there was so much blood, that there was concern she could lose her foot.

“I couldn’t even believe it,” Gunther said on NBC. “After everything I’ve been through, fighting back. My dream has always been to go to the Olympics.”

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