Erin Jackson, who in 2018 became the first Black woman to qualify for a U.S. Olympic long-track speed skating team (after just four months on the ice), on Friday became the first Black woman to win a race on the World Cup, the sport’s highest level.
Jackson, a 29-year-old whose best prior World Cup finish was ninth, won the 500m at the Olympic season opener in Poland. She clocked 37.613 seconds, edging 2018 Olympic champion Nao Kodaira of Japan by .13.
“Kind of a big surprise,” Jackson told Dutch broadcaster NOS. “I was hoping to be in podium position.”
The field also included all three medalists from the February 2021 World Championships, where Jackson didn’t skate. She didn’t compete internationally at all last season after getting a bungee cord lodged in her eye and also having training interrupted for two-week periods while multiple people around her got the coronavirus.
Jackson nevertheless showed her form three weeks ago, clocking her fastest times ever (37.08, 37.10) in a pair of 500m races in Salt Lake City. Times are quicker there at elevation, but they were both faster than the 2019 World Championships winning time at the same oval.
“Dreaming of Olympic gold like everyone else,” she said Friday. “It’s still really early, so it’s anyone’s game, but I’m definitely feeling more confidence now.”
Jackson was 24th at the 2018 Olympics after converting from inline skating and roller derby, where she played for the Ocala Cannibals and Jacksonville RollerGirls in her native Florida. She also tried figure skating before switching disciplines to inline in 2003.
The U.S.’ top three speed skaters — Jackson, Brittany Bowe and Joey Mantia — are all former inline skaters and all grew up in Ocala. It’s a city of 60,000 off Interstate 75, 40 minutes south of the University of Florida, from which Jackson graduated with an engineering degree. Jackson, Bowe and Mantia all had the same youth inline coach, Renee Hildebrand.
No U.S. woman has won an Olympic 500m medal since Bonnie Blair won the last of three consecutive Olympic titles in 1994.
American Shani Davis is the most successful Black male speed skater in history, winning four Olympic medals, including two golds.
NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.
OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!Follow @nbcolympictalk