That’s what friends are for.
Erin Jackson is going to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, thanks to a generous gesture by her good friend Brittany Bowe.
On Sunday, Bowe, who qualified for three events at the U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Trials, gave her spot in the 500m to Jackson, the No. 1-ranked skater in the event.
This will be the third Olympics for Bowe and the second for Jackson, who in 2018 became the first Black woman to make the U.S. Olympic long track speed skating team after just four months of serious on-ice training.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Bowe told NBCSports.com. “There’s not a doubt in my mind that she wouldn’t do the same thing for me.”
Jackson had an unfortunate bobble in the race Friday, watching her hopes for an Olympic gold medal slip away when she finished third behind Bowe and Kimi Goetz. Only two U.S. women are guaranteed Olympic berths, although a third spot is a possibility due to reallocation from other nations later.
“She has earned her spot; she deserves it,” said Bowe, who is ranked No. 1 in the world in the 1000 and is also an Olympic medal threat in the 1500.
The 500 was not Bowe’s top priority this season, although she still holds out hope that the U.S. will receive that third quota spot. “I would love to race in it,” she said. “Hopefully all three of us will.”
However, Bowe, 33, knew that if Jackson didn’t get on the team, she wouldn’t be eligible if that spot eventually came up.
On Saturday night, Bowe received a text from US Speedskating reminding her of the champagne celebration Sunday for the Olympic team at the Pettit National Ice Center in Milwaukee. “I couldn’t have had a celebratory time without Erin,” Bowe told reporters.
She called Jackson on Sunday morning to give her the good news before she informed US Speedskating of her decision.
That gave Jackson peace of mind. The 29-year-old, who won four of the eight 500m races on the World Cup circuit last fall, didn’t sleep at all after her mistake. “I couldn’t turn my brain off,” said Jackson. “It’s been really stressful, just kind of being in limbo for so long.”
Although she took full responsibility for her slip on the ice, Jackson said the disappointment of not skating a good race was compounded by “potentially missing out on the Olympics after a season I’ve been really proud of. It was really devastating.”
And then she got the call from Bowe. They go way back, meeting when Jackson was 10 and joined an inline skating club in Ocala, Florida. The skaters still laugh about a photo showing Jackson standing between Bowe and three-time Olympian Joey Mantia and barely coming up to their chests.
Jackson said she felt “really overwhelming emotions.”
ON HER TURF: Erin Jackson will compete in Beijing
“Just for her to do something like this for me, it’s amazing,” she said. “I’m just incredibly grateful. I’m really humbled, and she’s just an amazing person.”
Actually, the idea of relinquishing her spot had been percolating in Bowe’s mind ever since Jackson was denied a re-skate following her 500m faux pas.
“In my heart there was never a question that I would do whatever it took if it came down to me to get Erin to skate the Olympics,” Bowe said.
She said she even told Jackson that before they left the building on Friday night, and she gave her a hug.
“I had to selfishly refocus on my 1500m, so we didn’t talk at all yesterday,” Bowe said. “I can’t even imagine how stressed she’s been the past few days.”
Feeling her friend’s heartbreak, Bowe knew she had to act. “It’s just the spirit of the Olympics and being a great teammate,” Bowe said, “and yes, it’s bigger than just me. It’s Team USA. Erin has a shot to bring home a medal, hopefully a gold medal, and it’s my honor to give her that opportunity.”
Mia Manganello Kilburg, who made the Olympic team in the 1500m and mass start, was Bowe’s teammate in 2018 when they won an Olympic bronze medal in team pursuit. That was the only Team USA long track medal in the past two Olympic Games.
“It’s just honorable,” Manganello Kilburg said of Bowe. “It’s something that I assumed somebody would do, and she’s an amazing person, an amazing teammate.”
And now through that act of sportsmanship, Jackson has been given an opportunity that she thought was lost. That “makes it 10 times more awesome going into Beijing,” she said.
Jackson will strive to win the first gold medal in the 500 for Team USA since Bonnie Blair won three straight in 1988, 1992 and 1994. She has a much better chance to get it than Bowe, whose best World Cup finish in the event this season is eighth.
“Going into it, no matter what, I’ve got my eyes on the top spot,” Jackson said, “but this just makes it so much sweeter that I was kind of given this gift from a very close friend of mine. It would be awesome for both of us to be able to stand at the top of the podium in our races and share that moment.”
They already share one of the feel-good moments in the run-up to the embattled Beijing Games.
On Sunday, the trials concluded with the men’s and women’s mass start, the chaotic pack-style races. Two Olympic qualifiers were held in late October, with the trials the final event to determine one guaranteed spot in the men’s and women’s events. Coaches also had the discretion to pick the second male and female athletes.
Ian Quinn pulled away to win the men’s race and secure his Olympic berth with 150 overall points. Quinn is a former short track speed skater and put that experience to his advantage in the 16-lap race.
“I use gut instinct,” Quinn said. “If you try to plan too much you’ll end up overthinking it.”
Mantia, the three-time world champion in mass start, was sixth and became the discretionary pick by the U.S. coaches. He accumulated 146 points for second overall.
Giorgia Birkeland won the women’s race, followed by Manganello Kilburg, who nabbed the guaranteed berth with 174 points.
“She is a huge star to come,” Manganello Kilburg said of the 19-year-old Birkeland, who was the discretionary pick, sitting fourth in the mass start series.
This U.S. team is composed of seven men and five women. The others added to the team Sunday were Austin Kleba in the men’s 500 and 5000m skater Casey Dawson, who will also join Mantia, Emery Lehman and Ethan Cepuran in team pursuit. The U.S. recently set the world record in that event.
Karen Rosen, who has covered every summer and winter Olympics since 1992, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com.
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