BEIJING (Reuters) – When American Erin Jackson crossed the finish line of the women’s 500 metres race at the Beijing Olympics on Sunday, she not only won gold but became the first Black woman to win a medal in speed skating history.
“I think what she did tonight is going to be a springboard to give so many little girls and boys the opportunity to look up to someone that they haven’t been able to look at and relate to,” teammate Brittany Bowe said of Jackson after the race.
“So that goes far beyond what any of us could have imagined, how many people, specifically little girls, she’s going to be touching (the hearts of) after this performance,” Bowe added.
Jackson, who was explosive at the start line and followed through with a speedy lap around the National Speed Skating Oval, hopes her success will inspire others like her to take to the snow and ice.
“Hopefully we can see more minorities especially in the USA getting out and trying some of these winter sports, and I just hope to be a good example,” Jackson said.
In a sport typically dominated by Nordic countries and more recently by the Netherlands, she followed in the footsteps of fellow American Shani Davis – the first Black athlete to win speed skating gold – in adding a dab of diversity to the podium.
“It just sends the message that if you follow your heart and your passion, it can take you anywhere. You can do anything you want,” coach Ryan Shimabukuro said.
“You don’t have to be bound by any kind of barriers. I think this will motivate and inspire a lot of the African American community, just like Shani David did with 2006 and 2010,” he added.
That being said, the 29-year-old Jackson, whose athletic roots are based in roller-skating and who appears to switch seamlessly between wheels and blades depending on the season, also just simply loves the speed of the sport.
“To be honest, I don’t think … she does this to be a role model. She loves to skate fast, whether it’s on wheels or on ice, or roller derby,” Shimabukuro said, “and if her performances inspire others then I think that’s just the cherry on the top.”
(Reporting by Sakura Murakami; Editing by Bill Berkrot)