USA speedskater Erin Jackson made Olympic history on Sunday. By winning gold in the women’s 500-meter event, she became the first Black woman to ever medal in the sport. Jackson won time of 26.71 seconds beating Japan’s Takagi Miho by 0.08 seconds. The significance of the moment wasn’t lost on Jackson.
“Hopefully, this has an effect,” Jackson said. “Hopefully, we’ll see more minorities, especially in the USA, getting out and trying these winter sports.”
Erin Jackson won gold for the U.S. to become the first Black woman to win a speedskating medal at the Winter Olympics. https://t.co/nD2uif80Zc
— philip lewis (@Phil_Lewis_) February 13, 2022
The win by Jackson was the first medal for an American woman since Bonnie Blair at Albertville 1992. It was also the United States’ first speedskating Olympic gold medal since Shani Davis won the men’s 1,000-meter event at Vancouver 2010. Davis was the first Black athlete to win gold in an individual event at the Winter Olympics.
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Unlike the Summer Olympics, the Winter Games have not traditionally been diverse or the venue for Black excellence. Queue all the jokes about cold weather, but that’s misguided. Like with most things, the question about diversity comes down to access.
Most Winter Olympic sports are costly to participate in, and that creates an economic barrier for many, including Black athletes. Of course, if economics aren’t the issue, race and attitudes about race within these traditionally white sports is another barrier.
Black French figure skater Surya Bonaly, a five-time European champion, who competed in the 1992, 1994, and 1998 Winter Olympics has spoken openly about the racism she faced in the lily-white sport.
“It’s starting to be a little better, but back in the day, skating was so expensive. I mean, it’s still an expensive sport. Also, when you’re black, you don’t really consider winter sports. But skating was just a really expensive sport. I was lucky because my mom was a skating coach, so it was easier for me, but that’s not the case for everybody. But today you see more black people on the ice from America and France. It’s starting to be more popular. … But race matters for sure, because I know that if I’d been white, I would have had more [endorsement] contracts and been bigger.”
For Jackson, Olympic gold almost didn’t happen. She is the world’s fastest skater in the 500-meter event but slipped at Olympic Trials and finished third. Only the top two finishers are guaranteed spots. However, her teammate Brittany Bowe volunteered her spot, knowing Jackson was the best, and through a redistribution of points Bowe was allowed to race in the Olympics for Team USA as well.
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Cried so much that I put on my medal backward… then cried some more 😭🥇🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/deEgHSFrHU
— Erin Jackson (@ErinJackson480) February 14, 2022
The Olympics has capped off a very successful run for Jackson. She won four of eight races on the World Cup circuit leading up to the Olympics, becoming the first Black woman to win a World Cup. Jackson also became the American record holder in the 500 meters.
“This is huge. It’s a momentum changer,” said her coach, Ryan Shimabukuro. “For U.S. Speedskating, we’ve taken a lot of punches on the chin the last couple of Olympics, so it’s great that we could celebrate tonight.”
A Black woman winning gold at the Winter Olympics is beautiful and will no doubt inspire many young Black girls to try and do the same.
It wasn’t too long ago, just 2017, when Maame Biney, the Ghana born, DC raised, athlete blew away the competition in the qualifying rounds for the Team USA Olympic speedskating team.
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