Erin Jackson favored to end US speedskating drought in China

Feb 9, 2022, 5:48 AM | Updated: 9:02 pm
Erin Jackson of the United States skates during a speedskating practice session at the 2022 Winter ...

Erin Jackson of the United States skates during a speedskating practice session at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

BEIJING (AP) — Erin Jackson shocked herself by making the U.S. Olympic team four years ago. Barely confident of staying upright after just four months on the ice, she was just happy to be in Pyeongchang. Now, she’s the favorite for speedskating gold in Beijing.

“This time around I’m coming in swinging and I’ve got my sights set,” she said.

The former inline and roller derby skater from balmy Ocala, Florida, has made huge strides since 2018, when she finished 24th in the 500 meters in South Korea.

Jackson became the first Black woman to win a World Cup race in November. She took four of this season’s eight races in the 500, medaled in two others and is No. 1 in the world in the sprint race, which seemingly made her a lock for the Olympic team.

A slip of her blade nearly did her in. She stumbled mid-race at the U.S. trials in early January and finished third. Only the top two were guaranteed berths, leaving Jackson sleepless that night wondering if her dream had been dashed.

Brittany Bowe wouldn’t hear of it. Bowe, a close friend of Jackson, gave up her spot in the 500. Bowe will compete in the event on Sunday, too, after the U.S. picked up a third quota spot.

No American woman has won the 500 since Bonnie Blair claimed three straight Olympic titles from 1988-1994. The last individual medal of any kind by a U.S. woman came in 2002.

“Erin is absolutely on the top of her game now,” Bowe said. “I cannot wait to see what she has in store.”

Neither can coach Renee Hildebrand, who will be watching from Florida.

Jackson and Bowe, along with teammate Joey Mantia, are all from Ocala and grew up training as inline skaters on two wheels under Hildebrand before transitioning to ice.

“Erin’s technique is still not what she wants it to be on ice,” Hildebrand said. “She’s really quick right now. Eventually, she’s going to be really quick and really good with her technique. I think she will break some records.”

Jackson began skating at age 10, quickly transforming into a self-described rink rat. She looked up to Bowe, who at 33 is four years older.

“This just makes it so much sweeter,” Jackson said of Bowe’s gesture. “It makes it 10 times more awesome.”

Jackson’s stumble is one of several obstacles she’s overcome. In 2019, she endured back problems. Then she missed the entire 2020-21 season because of COVID-19 quarantines for being a close contact and because of an eye injury caused by a bungee cord snapping loose.

Through it all, Jackson kept the same composure she showed after her slip at trials.

“She’s a class act through everything,” said Matt Kooreman, national sprint coach for US Speedskating.

Jackson describes herself as more of a student than an athlete. She certainly has the credentials, having graduated with honors from the University of Florida in 2015 with a degree in materials science and engineering. She earned an associate’s degree in computer science and is working toward another associate’s in kinesiology.

“I couldn’t imagine not taking every opportunity I can to better my education,” she said. “I value education so much.”

Jackson took a year off from classes to prepare for the Olympics, but she’s missing the academic grind.

“I’m better all around when I’m a little busier,” she said. “Right now, I feel like I’ve gotten really lazy.”

Among her many goals is increasing diversity in a sport dominated by white athletes. She has reached out to Edge Outdoors, a Washington state non-profit that provides scholarships to cultivate women of color in snow sports, about possibly starting a Utah chapter.

“Young girls are writing to her. She’s enjoying that part of it now,” Hildebrand said. “She’s understanding that she can make history in more ways than one. We need more diversity in our sport, both inline and on ice. To see skaters of all different colors would be great.”

The racial reckoning that took hold in the U.S. after George Floyd was killed by police in 2020 helped lay the groundwork for change decades in the making in sports. Jackson has her own thoughtful approach.

“I stay out of all the things that are going on like that. I feel that, of course, because it’s something you can’t really escape,” she said. “But I try to help by being a positive example. There’s a lot of negativity in the world and I try to fight it by being an example of something good.”

One of her inspirations is her 72-year-old father, Tracy. He moved to Salt Lake City from Florida last June to live with his only daughter. Her mother, Rita, died in 2011 when Jackson was a senior in high school.

“He means a lot to me,” Jackson said. “I’ve always been a daddy’s girl. Just having his love here and now, it’s like I never left.”

Jackson’s evolution from the rough-and-tough pack skating of roller derby on four wheels to racing on blades in a pair against the clock has been gradual. Her coach Ryan Shimabukuro got her biking, lifting weights and dry-land training, things she’d never done as an inliner.

“The ice is so much more technical,” Shimabukuro said. “You make one mistake, you can lose 10 spots, especially in the 500 meters where the smallest margin is a thousandth of a second.”

Jackson has proven a quick study, to the point where Shimabukuro has had to tell her to knock off wearing herself out.

“She’s a game-day racer,” he said. “That’s one of her biggest attributes. No matter what the situation is on the day of the race she can up her level.”

A lifelong learner, Jackson figures she’s still early in her education on ice.

“I can’t see myself stopping now when I’m just figuring out what I’m doing,” she said. “I feel like it’s the beginning.”

___

More AP Winter Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/winter-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

The ski slopes are almost devoid of snow at the Tūroa ski field, on Mt. Ruapehu, New Zealand on Se...
Associated Press

Missing snow puts famed New Zealand ski areas on precipice

TUROA SKI AREA, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand’s Turoa ski area is usually a white wonderland at this time of year, its deep snowpack supporting its famed spring skiing. This season, it’s largely a barren moonscape, with tiny patches of snow poking out between vast fields of jagged volcanic boulders. The ski area was […]
21 hours ago
FILE - Kansas City Royals pitching coach Cal Eldred in the seventh inning of a baseball game, May 1...
Associated Press

Royals fire manager Mike Matheny after 65-97 end to season

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Manager Mike Matheny and pitching coach Cal Eldred were fired by the Kansas Cty Royals on Wednesday night, shortly after the struggling franchise finished the season 65-97 with a listless 9-2 loss to the Cleveland Guardians. The Royals had exercised their option on Matheny’s contract for 2023 during spring training, […]
21 hours ago
Philadelphia 76ers' James Harden goes up for a dunk during the first half of a preseason NBA basket...
Associated Press

Embiid, Harden begin as 76ers top Cavs in Mitchell’s debut

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Joel Embiid and James Harden were done with their preseason debuts long before Montrezl Harrell scored the go-ahead basket with 26 seconds left, and the Philadelphia 76ers beat Cleveland 113-112 on Wednesday night in Donovan Mitchell’s first game with the Cavaliers. Embiid had 12 points and six rebounds in 18 minutes before […]
21 hours ago
Central Florida coach Gus Malzahn, left, and SMU coach Rhett Lashlee talk before an NCAA college fo...
Associated Press

UCF scores 31 unanswered points, beats SMU in AAC opener

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — John Rhys Plumlee threw for 316 yards and two touchdowns, both coming in the second half to Ryan O’Keefe, and UCF scored 31 unanswered points to beat SMU 41-19 on Wednesday night in a game postponed because of tropical weather. UCF trailed 13-10 at halftime before scoring four touchdowns in the […]
21 hours ago
New York Mets' Mark Vientos celebrates with James McCann (33) after they scored on a three-run home...
Associated Press

Mets prep for playoffs with 9-2 rout of Nationals

NEW YORK (AP) — After wrapping up a 101-win season with an easy romp, the New York Mets know their next challenge will be much tougher. Francisco Lindor and the Mets geared up for the playoffs with a 9-2 rout of the Washington Nationals on Wednesday, completing a fantastic regular season with the second-most victories […]
21 hours ago
Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly waves to the crowd after a baseball game against the Atlanta Br...
Associated Press

Mattingly wins his last game as Marlins manager, tops Braves

MIAMI (AP) — Don Mattingly went out as a winner in his final game as Miami’s manager when rookie Peyton Burdick homered and drove in four runs to lead the Marlins over the NL East champion Atlanta Braves 12-9 on Wednesday. Matt Olson hit his 34th homer and Marcell Ozuna hit his 23rd for the […]
21 hours ago
Erin Jackson favored to end US speedskating drought in China