GOLD! Ocala's Erin Jackson wins 500-meter speedskate in Beijing Olympics

Jim Ross
Ocala Star-Banner
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Editor's note: This story has been revised to note that in 2018, Erin Jackson became the first African American woman to qualify for a U.S. Olympic long-track speedskating team.  

Ocala's Erin Jackson won the gold medal Sunday morning in the 500-meter speedskate at the Beijing Olympics.

Jackson's time was 37.04.

After the result was final, NBC cameras captured a joyful Jackson hugging her coach.

Jackson is the first American woman to win the event in 28 years, since Bonnie Blair won in 1994.

More on Jackson's win in Beijing:Erin Jackson wins gold, becomes first Black woman to win Olympic medal in speedskating

Gold, silver and bronze:Who leads the Beijing Olympics medal count? How each country performed at the Winter Games

Earlier in these Games:Ocala's Brittany Bowe places 10th in 1,500-meter speedskating event at Beijing Olympics

Check this out:Dumpling-eating California snowboarder competing for Malta might be the most interesting person at the Winter Olympics

Erin Jackson of the United States reacts after her heat in the speedskating women's 500-meter race at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 13, 2022, in Beijing.

Erin Jackson has strong local ties

Jackson, 29, attended Shores Christian Academy, Howard Middle School and then Forest High School, where she was in the EMIT (Engineering and Manufacturing Institute of Technology) program.

From there she went to the University of Florida, where she graduated cum laude in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree from the Materials Science & Engineering program.

According to her Olympic bio and the Associated Press, she also holds an associate degree in computer science from Salt Lake Community College and is pursuing a degree in kinesiology.

Erin Jackson:  Olympic speedskater learned to fly in Florida

Erin Jackson skates during the women's 500-meter World Cup speedskating race at the Utah Olympic Oval on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021, in Kearns, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

The heart-warming path to Sunday's race

For a short time, it looked like Jackson wouldn't even be able to compete in this race.

Earlier this year, during U.S. team trials in Milwaukee, Jackson had a slight slip in the 500-meter race. She finished with the third best time, and only two spots were available.

But fellow Ocalan Brittany Bowe, in an act widely celebrated as an example of the Olympic spirit, gave Jackson her spot in the 500-meter race. Bowe had finished first in the trial.

“I’m beyond grateful and humbled. I’m happy,” Jackson said at the time, according to an account in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Bowe later was able to secure a spot in the race, after all, when some countries were unable to fill their spots. Bowe also qualified separately for the 1,000- and 1,500-meter races. In the 500-meter race Sunday, Bowe had a time of 38.04.

Erin Jackson made the team in 2018, as well

Jackson was a surprise qualifier on the 2018 Olympic team. At the time, she had just four months of experience on ice. Like fellow Ocalans Bowe and Joey Mantia, she started as an inline skater and then shifted to ice.

This 2009 photo shows Erin Jackson, then 17, practicing inline skating at the Baseline Road Trailhead in Ocala.

Jackson also made history that year, becoming the first African American woman to ever qualify for a U.S. Olympic long-track speedskating team. 

Jackson finished in 24th place in the 500-meter race in those 2018 Olympics, and her star has been on the rise since then.

"Jackson became the first Black woman to win a World Cup race in November. She took four of this season’s eight races in the 500, medaled in two others and is No. 1 in the world in the sprint race," the Associated Press reported.

She now lives in Salt Lake City with her dad so she can train. Her mom died in 2011.

Her dad and family and friends were watching Sunday morning from Park City, Utah, and NBC's cameras showed them cheering her victory.

They have speedskating in Ocala?

National media loves the story of the three athletes from a small town in Florida – yes, Florida – who have emerged as speedskating stars.

In this April 2016 file photo, inline World Cup speed skating champion Brittany Bowe works out during a practice with the Ocala Speed team at Skate A Way South. Bowe was a decorated inline skater who transitioned to the ice and competed on the U.S. teams in the 2014 and 2018 Winter Olympics. She's competing again in 2022.

Jackson, Bowe and Joey Mantia all started as inline skaters under local coach Renee Hildebrand. They had celebrated careers but switched to ice so they could compete in the Olympics.

Bowe and Mantia competed in the 2014 games. And all three were on the 2018 team, with Bowe winning a bronze medal in a team competition.

Later that year they all received the key to the city during a celebration on the downtown Ocala square. 

So far in these games, Bowe has taken 10th place in the 1,500 meters and Mantia has finished sixth in the 1,500. Both skaters will compete in the 1,000-meter events later this week.

Social media reacts to Erin Jackson's gold medal-winning performance

Twitter and Facebook lit up Sunday morning after Jackson's big win.

Among those cheering online was Brittany Bowe's mom, Debbie.

National media also spread the word.

And the Gator Nation made its pride known.

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