Kearns • Erin Jackson’s family can’t be in Beijing for the 2022 Olympic Games, which has banned all fans from outside mainland China to stem the spread of COVID-19. But Friday from the trackside stands at the Utah Olympic Oval, they got a glimpse of what they might be missing.
With cousins, her aunt and her father cheering her on, Jackson streaked around her home ice to win gold in the women’s 500 meters on the opening day of the International Skating Union World Cup long-track speedskating races. In fact, she went faster than any other American woman has ever gone. Her time of 36.809 seconds broke the national record of 36.9 set eight years ago by Heather Bergsma.
“I’m just glad she’s where she’s at,” Tracy Jackson said of his daughter. “I didn’t know she was doing this good.”
Good doesn’t accurately describe how Erin Jackson is doing this season. Taking down the record was a small milestone compared to the one Jackson, 29, claimed last month in the season opener in Poland.
There, the Salt Lake City racer became the first Black woman in history to stand atop the podium at a World Cup.
Jackson now stands atop the World Cup standings — 10 points ahead of Japan’s Nao Kodaira, the silver medalist at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics — and is marked as a favorite to medal in China in February. She could be the first American woman to win an individual medal since Jennifer Rodriguez in 2002 (bronze in the 1000 and 1,500) and the first woman to win gold since Bonnie Blair won the 1,000 in 1994.
Yet neither those accomplishments nor her four wins in five World Cup races this season guarantee she’ll actually be on the ice in Beijing. The only way to ink her name onto the starting list is to qualify at the U.S. Olympic long-track team trials in Milwaukee on Jan. 5-9.
“When we get to Olympic Trials,” said Jackson, who placed 24th in the 500 in Pyeongchang in 2018, “it’s up for anyone.”
The same goes for Brittany Bowe, another Salt Lake skater, who leads the world standings in the 1,000 meters. And for Joey Mantia, who sits No. 3 on the men’s 1,500 leaderboard. And for any other American athlete seeking Olympic glory.
“It’s still a tight, tight race,” Team USA coach Ryan Shimabukuro said. “She only won by a tenth [of a second] today, you know, and tomorrow it could be flip flopped. And she knows that. So she’s always happy to take a victory, but she doesn’t get complacent, that’s for sure.”
That doesn’t reduce this week’s races to mere practice. The points athletes pick up at the World Cup races this season help determine how many racers each country can send to the Olympics. The points also determine an athlete’s seeding at the Games, should she qualify.
Most importantly, perhaps, these races can stoke an athlete’s fire.
“It’s definitely confidence building, you know?” Jackson said. “But as far as everyone else goes, like, I can’t really think about what everyone else is doing. Everyone’s got their own plans for the season and when they want to be fast. So, yeah, I’m just going to keep doing my plan and seeing how it works out.”
It’s worked out well so far, and Shimabukuro said he has no concerns Jackson is peaking too soon.
“The goal is in February, not now,” he said. “I think we’d all be kicking ourselves if we, you know, set the world on fire here and then came up with nothing in February.”
Russia’s Angelina Golikova took second behind Jackson in the 500. Meanwhile Femke Kok of the Netherlands also made the most of the “Fastest Ice on Earth” on Friday by setting the Dutch national record in the 500 — a considerable feat for someone from a country to which speedskating is the equivalent to football in America or soccer in Brazil — with a time of 37.017.
Japan’s Yamato Matsui and Wataru Morishige went 1-2 in the men’s 500, followed by Laurent Dubreuil of Canada. Irene Schouten and Antoinette de Jong of the Netherlands took gold and silver in the women’s 3,000 and Nils van der Poel of Sweden set a world record in winning the men’s 5,000 (6:01.566) by nearly three seconds over Dutchman Patrick Roest.
Jackson’s family will be in the stands again Saturday as she races for her fifth World Cup gold in the second women’s 500 race of the weekend. Bowe and Mantia, meanwhile, will both scratch home ice for the first time in international competition since 2019 later this weekend. Bowe will likely compete in the women’s 1,000 and team pursuit on Saturday and the 1,500 on Sunday. Mantia is expected to compete in the men’s mass start and the 1,500 on Saturday and the 1,000 on Sunday.
Also Sunday, Mia Manganello Kilburg is expected to race the women’s mass start.