UF grad Erin Jackson finishes out of running in Olympic speedskating

Ida Njatun of Norway, left, and Erin Jackson, of the U.S., compete during the women's 500 meters speedskating race at the Gangneung Oval at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea, Sunday. (AP Photo/John Locher)
GANGNEUNG, South Korea — Erin Jackson, of Ocala and a University of Florida graduate, was 24th of 31 skaters in 39.20 in the 500-meter Olympic speedskating Sunday.

Jackson was in the first pairing of the women’s competition. Her time was slower than her personal best of 39.04 that she skated at the U.S. trials last month.

The inline skater only switched to ice last February and became the first black woman to make the U.S. long-track Olympic team. She graduated from UF with a degree in materials science and engineering in 2015.

“I surprised myself a lot,” she said earlier this month. “I really wasn’t expecting any of this, just coming in as a newbie, just trying to do the best I can.

“I’m happy to be someone kids can look to. Someone who looks like them.”

She was confined to her room at the athletes village during her first days at the games after getting sick. She passed time binging on the Netflix series “Stranger Things” when her roommates moved out, and she skipped the opening ceremony to rest. Now she’s feeling better.

“I’m just crazy excited,” she said. “Really excited to get out there for my race and see how things add up.

“It’s just a matter of making up for the lost time on the ice. I haven’t been out there very long total, like, in my life, so every practice that I lose is just like kind of another step back, just things that I have to re-learn.”

Now she knows what it takes for the next Winter Games, which was her goal before her surprise showing last month.

On Sunday, Nao Kodaira sped around the oval, furiously pumping her arms and legs. She charged across the finish line, the gold medal easily in hand. With two pairs to go, Kodaira could watch knowing that two-time defending champion Lee Sang-hwa was unlikely to catch her despite the loud cheers of the Korean fans.
Kodaira was timed in 36.94 seconds on Sunday, becoming the first woman to race under 37 seconds at sea level. 

Lee clocked 37.67 to earn silver, and Karolina Erbanova of the Czech Republic took bronze in 37.34.

Kodaira came into the Olympics as the reigning world champion and the dominant sprinter on the World Cup circuit, where she has won 15 straight races dating to 2016.

Her time was an Olympic record, bettering the mark of 37.28 set by Lee four years ago in Sochi.

Kodaira is just the second Japanese speedskater to win Olympic gold, joining Hiroyasu Shimizu, who won the men’s 500 at the 1998 Nagano Games.

Kodaira and Lee carried their respective countries’ flags as they skated around in a parade lap. A crying Lee got a hug from Kodaira as the crowd chanted Lee’s name.

Brittany Bowe, also of Ocala, finished fifth in 37.530, and her U.S. teammate Heather Bergsma was 11th in 38.13.

The 500 used to be decided over two races, in which each skater had to start both in the inner lane and the outer lane once. Now it’s one race only since the mass start has returned to the Olympics for the first time since 1932.