Speedskater Erin Jackson is the first Black woman to win an Olympic medal in the sport

The Salt Lake City resident won gold in the 500-meter race Sunday

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Erin Jackson (USA) celebrates winning the gold medal in the speedskating women's 500m at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing on Sunday, Feb. 13, 2022.

Beijing • Erin Jackson shattered the ice as much as she glided on it.

With her gold-medal performance in the 500 meters Sunday, she became the first Black woman to claim any Olympic medal in long-track speedskating.

“It sends a message of, if you follow your heart and passion, you can achieve what you want,” said Ryan Shimabukuro, head coach of U.S. Speedskating.

“I don’t think EJ does this because she looks at herself as a role model,” he added. “She just likes to skate fast, and if her performance inspires others, then that’s the cherry on top.”

Jackson, a Salt Lake City resident, went fast from the start. Shimabukuro said she had one of her fastest openings on her way to setting the winning time of 37.04 seconds in the second-to-last heat at the Ice Ribbon. Miho Takagi of Japan (37.12) set the pace to beat in the fourth of 15 heats and earned silver. Russia’s Angelina Golikova (37.21) collected the bronze.

In November, Jackson became the first Black woman to win a World Cup race.

Jackson said she “cried immediately” upon realizing she won the gold.

“It was a big release of emotion,” she said. “A lot of shock, a lot of relief and a lot of happiness.”

Jackson, 29, is the top-ranked skater in the world at this distance, but she almost didn’t get the chance to race in Beijing. She slipped at the Olympic trials and took third, which might have kept her off the team if teammate Brittany Bowe didn’t volunteer to give up her spot to Jackson, who like Bowe hails from Ocala, Florida.

Bowe, 33, got to race anyway after a redistribution of spots gave the United States a third position. A favorite to win a medal in the 1,000, she took 16th (38.04) Sunday. Kimi Goetz, who finished second at the Team USA trials, was 18th (38.25).

Bowe skated in the fifth pair but stuck around the infield to cheer Jackson on. She said she almost blacked out she was yelling so loud.

“Words can’t explain how happy I am,” Bowe said. “She deserves to be here. She’s an Olympic champion.”

Afterward, the two exchanged an embrace.

“We cried and she said she’s really proud of me,” Jackson said, “and I said a lot of thank-yous.”

Jackson’s Olympic medal is the first in an individual race for an American skater since 2010. Shani Davis, who became the first Black speedskater to win gold at the Olympics when he did it in the 1,000 meters in Turin in 2006, also won gold that year in Vancouver.

“Hopefully, hopefully it has an effect,” Jackson said of her win. “You know, hopefully we can see more minorities, especially in the USA, getting out and trying some of these winter sports.”

Jackson qualified for the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics just one year after transitioning from inline skating to competing on the ice. She finished 24th in the 500 that year.

She is next scheduled to skate the 1,000 on Thursday along with Bowe and Goetz.

Earlier in the evening, the men’s team pursuit squad of Ethan Cepuran, Emery Lehman and Casey Dawson — whose luggage and skates arrived in Beijing a day after he competed in the 1,000 on borrowed blades — reached the semifinals. Shimabukuro expressed hope that Jackson’s win plus is an indication that U.S. Speedskating is rebounding from a difficult stretch. The long track team was shut out of the medals in Sochi in 2014 and collected just one, a bronze in team pursuit with a team that included Bowe, in Pyeongchang in 2018. Jackson is the first American woman to win an individual medal since Jennifer Rodriguez in 2002 (bronze in the 1,000 and 1,500) and the first woman to win gold since Bonnie Blair won the 1,000 in 1994.

“We’ve taken a lot of punches on the chin in the last couple of Olympics,” he said, “so it’s great that we could celebrate tonight.”