Olympic Speed Skater Erin Jackson On A Fast Learning Curve

By Gary D'Amato, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel | Jan. 17, 2018, 4:38 p.m. (ET)

Erin Jackson wasn’t just a long shot to make the U.S. Olympic long-track speedskating team earlier this month. She was a no shot. Vegas would have given the Minnesota Vikings better odds to win their NFC Divisional playoff game on a last-gasp fling and a prayer.

An accomplished inline skater but a novice on clap skates, Jackson of Ocala, Fla., was out of her element when she stepped on ice for the first time in February.

“I was pretty scared of crashing,” she said. “It was totally foreign. It’s a completely different feeling from being on inlines, and it was just kind of hard for me to wrap my head around that because I’ve been skating my whole life.”

Two weeks before the trials at the Pettit National Ice Center, she’d never broken 40 seconds over 500 meters. She wasn’t s-l-o-w, but she wasn’t Bonnie Blair, either. And technically speaking, she was a mess. She skated with her hips too high and flailed her arms in the corners, holding on for dear life.

But she had one thing in her favor: her legs were bands of steel, imbued with strength from years of inline racing. The force with which she pushed her blades down into the ice made veteran observers sit up and take notice.

“You can almost smell the power coming out,” said Guy Thibault, U.S. Speedskating’s high-performance director.

Still, when asked how remote she thought her chances were of making the long-track team on a 1 to 10 scale (with a 10 being the worst), Jackson said, “Probably 12.”

Then she went out and shocked everyone, including herself.

In the first of two 500-meter races, she was timed in a personal-best 39.22 seconds. In the second race, an hour later, she went 39.04. She earned the third of three spots on the U.S. team for the Pyeongchang Games, behind Olympic veterans Brittany Bowe and Heather Bergsma.

It was by far the biggest surprise of the trials.

The next day, Jackson’s head was still spinning. There was paperwork to fill out. There were 2,000 notifications on her Facebook account. There was an itinerary she didn’t expect, a training camp in Milwaukee, travel plans to South Korea.

“It’s just been crazy,” she said. “I’m still kind of processing it. To be ready for something like this, you have to have sort of an idea that it could happen, right? I didn’t have much of an idea, so it’s just kind of thrown on me.”

There is little chance she will win a medal in Pyeongchang. The fastest women in the world are 3 seconds faster than Jackson.

But her rapid improvement bodes well for the future.

“She cut two seconds in, like, a month,” Thibault said. “I mean, I really doubt she’s going to be top 10 (in Korea), but I think she’s going to skate 37s a year from now. Thirty-seven is usually top 10. And I think she’s probably going to skate 36 within two years, so you’re talking podium.

“She’s going to be a big deal.”

She already is. Jackson, 25, is a University of Florida graduate, with a degree in materials engineering. She’s done research in dental materials and ultimately wants to pursue a career in the bio-med field.

She’s also the first African-American woman to make the U.S. Olympic long-track team. Maame Biney, who was born in Ghana, made the U.S. short-track team.

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