Erin Jackson celebrates during the women's 500-meter flower ceremony of the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on Feb. 13, 2022 in Beijing.
37.04 seconds a year ago made all the difference.
That’s how long it took Erin Jackson to travel around the speedskating oval in Beijing and become the first Black woman to earn an individual gold medal in the history of the Olympic Winter Games. She did so when she won the women’s 500-meter long track event on the middle Sunday of the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022, a moment that came one year ago today.
Now, as she did then, Jackson fully understands the significance of that achievement.
“I won the medal during Black History Month, so that just kind of added to, I guess, the energy of everything,” said Jackson, who has since had the opportunity to meet with various minority groups. “Just kind of hearing their stories and just like how it’s touched them, it’s super rewarding for me to hear what the kids are saying, what their parents are saying.”
As the calendar pages flipped over to February 2023 and yet another Black History Month, Jackson said that her historic victory on Feb. 13, 2022, retains its surreal quality.
“Sometimes, I’ll think about it and be like, ‘Did that really happen?’ I guess it’s still sinking in for the most part,” she said. “I guess when it first happened, there was just a whole lot of emotion, you know, a lot of shock and happiness and pride and everything like that.
“I still feel all those things. Sometimes, we’ll watch a highlight reel of the Games before a big … meeting or something like that, and everyone’s still getting all teary-eyed. I feel like all that stuff has really stuck with me, and I’m still just really grateful for everything that’s happened, and just really, really proud.”
Ironically, it nearly didn’t happen at all. The top-ranked 500-meter skater in the world, Jackson stumbled down the stretch at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials and failed to make the team. In an act of sportsmanship, hometown friend and mentor Brittany Bowe of Ocala, Florida, gifted her Olympic spot in the 500 to Jackson.
“It added a little drama to the situation,” Jackson recalled. “It was like this big fairytale ending because I went into the trials thinking, ‘I just have to get through this to go on to my further goals.’ And then it didn’t work out that way.
“So, then there was a lot of stress, a lot of negative emotion there. But I was still staying super positive. For it all to work out just made it even that much more rewarding. To be able to share those moments with my team, my teammates — especially with Brittany — I have to find some way to repay that favor at some point.”