In the story of speed skater Erin Jackson, here’s a chapter and a verse – OlympicTalk


There are so many compelling parts of Erin jacksonof the story, it’s hard to know where to start.

Is Jackson such a good inline skater that she’s been a four-time world medalist and three-time US Olympic Committee Female Athlete of the Year?

Or her integration into the 2018 U.S. Olympic team in long track speed skating about five minutes after switching from wheels to blades?

(OK, it took him a little longer, but you get the idea.)

Or is she the first black woman to make a U.S. Olympic long track team?

Or she does so after coming to the 2018 Olympic Trials without reaching the qualifying time for the PyeongChang Winter Games that followed.

Or her getting so many college degrees in so many subjects that Jackson jokingly (or not) thinks she should include “school” when asked to list her hobbies?

Or Jackson calling it “embarrassing” skating after scoring her first World Cup victory three weeks ago in Poland?

Or win that season opening 500m World Cup race after missing the entire 2020-21 international season due to multiple quarantines for close contact with Covid and an eye injury caused when has an elastic cord come off?

Or, with this 500m victory, become the first black woman to win an event in 36 years of World Cup history?

Or do it after not finishing higher than ninth in its previous 10 World Cup races?

Or she’ll win the next two 500 World Cups, finishing second in the next and entering the World Cup that begins Friday at the Utah Olympic Oval near Salt Lake City with the four fastest 500s in the world this season. , three of them new personal bests?

Or do it all when, as a coach, Ryan shimabukuro, she said, the 29-year-old from Ocala, Florida, is still in the early stages of her skating career.

(And we didn’t even mention the roller derby part. She’s a master of two wheels, four wheels and blades.)

“When I started out on the ice I was like, ‘I’m a speed skater, and it’s speed skating, and why isn’t it easier? “I really struggled at first,” Jackson said in a phone interview this week. “Taking on this new challenge has been the most rewarding thing. “

Her recent success hasn’t fooled Jackson into believing she is a technically sophisticated product, as evidenced by the “embarrassing” self-description of her technique in a Dutch TV interview after winning the Polish race with a record. track.

“When I look at myself and look at the other skaters, I feel like I’m not skating properly, but if it works, then I guess it’s okay,” Jackson said.

“Speed ​​skating has a kind of poetry in its appearance, in its movement. I hope to release it very soon.

If his poetry in motion is always more doggerel than Lord Byron, this is not surprising.

“To a casual observer the inline and the ice look the same as they are skating movements,” Shimabukuro said by phone this week. “But there’s a big difference in how you deliver power through a blade on ice versus wheels on cement or concrete. The timing of your push is different, the way you apply force is different, your body position is different.

“Because she had been roller skating for so long and had also done figure roller skating, she had a good feeling of being in boots and moving on a surface. You could tell she was in her boots. was a little hesitant on the ice at first, but very eager to learn, and asked good questions. She didn’t just shake her head if she didn’t understand, but asked me to ‘explain in a different way.

Once an engineer, always an engineer, especially one who obtained associate’s degrees in computer science and kinesiology.

Jackson, who started in-line racing at age 9, first ice skated at age 24 on a brief outing in September 2016 with members of the Dutch team in line on an ice rink in the Netherlands. Low. Video from that session which she posted to Instagram several years later showed her moving on the ice with a fluency that is startling for a beginner.

Like many champion inliners, including another Ocalan, Brittany Bowe, who has won multiple world titles on blades and wheels, Jackson is said to be drawn to the allure of the sport’s Olympic presence to try out ice skating.

When she took the next step by joining the U.S. speed skating program designed to turn inliners into ice skates, Jackson said she turned down two job offers that would have used her materials engineering degree. (Dean’s List) from the University of Florida.

“It was a tough decision, but I knew if I didn’t try ice skating when would I get a chance? ” she said.

Jackson went to Salt Lake City in February 2017, spent a few months training ice skating, returned to roller derby that summer, then returned to Utah for a four-month block of training. leading up to the 2018 U.S. Trials.

Almost all speed skaters use cycling for cross training. Jackson had never ridden a road bike until she traveled to Utah, and this ignorance led to what she said were multiple accidents (none serious). She had never done weightlifting before.

“I had to learn all the lifting techniques,” she says.

Shimabukuro, set to coach his fifth Olympics, said Jackson’s goal for Jackson’s first season was to gain experience competing in the US Trials and start a program for the 2022 Olympics. “There was no pressure on her, but she is definitely a game day athlete,” he said.

So she unexpectedly reached the 2018 Olympics finishing third in the 500, setting personal bests in both races.

“In 2018 I didn’t know what I was doing, I didn’t know how I found myself in this situation,” she said. “It was kind of a whirlwind. Everything seemed to go very quickly and then I found myself at the Olympics.

She finished 24th of 31 in the 500m in South Korea, more than two seconds (a light year at that distance) behind the winner Nao Kodaira from Japan. At the 2020 World Single Distance Championships, she was seventh in the 500m, less than 0.6 behind winner Kodaira. This season, Jackson has beaten Kodaira in three of the four World Cup races and finished just 0.15 behind her in the other.

“This year I’m coming with a lot more confidence,” Jackson said. “I’m starting to feel more comfortable on the ice and what I’m supposed to do.

His schedule has accelerated after losing most of last season to the pandemic and eye injury. His goal for 2020-21 had been to be regularly in the top five with a few podiums and for this season to be regularly on the podium with a few wins.

“By jumping last season, I had to skip that goal as well and go for the next one,” she said. “As I didn’t race last season, I didn’t know where I was in the world. It was surprising and really great for me to get a few wins early on.

That all of its races so far have been at sea level bodes well for Beijing, where the oval is also at sea level. The fastest times in the world – including all of the top Jackson’s 15 – are now all recorded at altitude (the Utah Olympic Oval is at 4,669 feet), but some skaters don’t adapt as well to the lower speeds of races at sea level.

“When I first got on the ice I was much better at sea level because I wasn’t too good a skater, I was just relying on raw power and speed,” said Jackson said. “Now I’m improving my finesse a bit and I’m more successful at altitude. “

Shimabukuro said her times this weekend might not be eye-catching as long trackers are in the midst of a heavy workload as they prepare for the 2022 Olympics, where the women’s 500 isn’t. before the 10th day (February 13).

The United States, Olympic powerhouse in long track speed skating for nearly every Winter Games from 1972 to 2010, won no medals in 2014 and only one bronze (in women’s team pursuit) in 2018 Jackson, Bowe, 33 and Joey mantia, 35, another former inliner raised at Ocala, are all expected to be medal contenders in Beijing.

At the end of his competitive days, Jackson hopes to combine all of his academic interests into a career as a biomechanist, perhaps in research and development. As a material engineering student, she worked on the design of ceramics for dental use.

Jackson plans to continue skating until at least the 2026 Olympics, although she may return to both roller derby and roller derby in the years to come. She hasn’t done either in a few years, in part because competition in both sports has been shut down for some or all of that time by the pandemic.

Shimabukuro is keeping a close eye on her running load because Jackson had three herniated discs in her lower back in 2019, which is why she only skates the 1000m occasionally at the moment. She is focusing entirely on the 500 for Beijing.

“If my body holds up after this (2026), I would like to do four more,” she said.

Jackson understands how his presence in the sport can encourage other people of color to try him.

“It’s really important to me,” she said. “There isn’t a lot of diversity at the Winter Games, and visibility has a big impact on that.

“You hear the argument, ‘Nothing prevents people of color from playing these winter sports.’ Of course not, but as with Sally ride (the first American woman in space), nothing prevented women from studying science and space exploration, but once she became the first, the number of young girls interested in space is skyrockets. I hope I can do it for someone.

Philip Hersh, who has covered the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com.

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