Erin Jackson at the Olympics: ‘I feel like I won just being here’

Erin Jackson reacts after competing in the women's 500 meters during the U.S. Olympic long track speedskating trials in Milwaukee.
Erin Jackson reacts after competing in the women's 500 meters during the U.S. Olympic long track speedskating trials in Milwaukee. AP

Erin Jackson isn’t a very good speedskater — and she’s happy about that.

"I feel like that’s a great thing," Jackson said. "If I’m not very good at skating, that means that I have a lot that I can fix and a lot that I can work on."

Jackson was bad enough to make the U.S. Olympic long track speedskating team, the first African American to do so, after engaging in the sport for only four months.

She was bad enough to leave the 2018 Winter Olympics with her first major corporate endorsement — Bridgestone tires — despite not coming close to the medal stand.

"I feel like I won just being here," Jackson said. "I feel like the expectations were pretty low coming in because I surprised people at the trials but I was still way off from where I needed to be. I made the team, but I knew I wasn’t close to the top people in the world."

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Jackson finish 24th in the women’s 500 meters on Sunday night. She started the evening ranked 30th among 31 skaters.

"My main goal coming in was to go faster," she said. "I basically came in unranked and I moved up to 24th. So I moved up a few slots and I’m really happy with that."

Japan’s Nao Kodaira won the gold medal with a time of 36.94 seconds. Jackson, a 25-year-old from Ocala, Fla., logged in at 39.20 seconds and proclaimed herself pleased with the result.

"Speedskating is a very technical sport and right now I’m still very much an inline skater out there," she said. "I’m looking forward to transform my inline technique into better ice technique because they’re pretty different."

That didn’t stop Jackson from becoming one of the top story lines of the Winter Games: A speedskating newbie, a black woman on blades, a convert from inline skating, and a roller derby queen to boot.

Making the Olympic team catapulted her to African American role model status, particularly among young girls. NBC "Saturday Night Live" comedian Leslie Jones tweeted an effusive shout-out to Jackson just before the skater’s race.

But she said this Olympic experience was all about gaining experience, getting better, and becoming formidable for the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.

Acknowledging that’s she still very much a work in progress, the University of Florida materials science and engineering graduate already has a to-do list to make sure she’s Beijing-bound.

"I just really need to push my position a lot lower so that I can extend my pushes further," Jackson said. "From there, I need to learn how to glide efficiently on the ice because now I’m just kind of running on the surface. Once I figure out how to glide a little better, then I can do the longer distances, possibly — the 1,000 (meters) and the 1,500 (meters).”

The change might not be easy as Jackson intends to continue inline skating and resume being a jammer for the Jacksonville’s New Jax City Rollers roller derby team when she returns to Ocala.

"I wasn’t really expecting to be here at the Olympics Games and had already made plans to go back to inline this season," she said. "It would be better for my ice career to stop inlining, but what I’m hoping to do is do them frequently enough that the crossover gets less and less and it gets easier to go back and forth."

William Douglas: 202-383-6026, @williamgdouglas