Jackson almost missed competing in the 500m at the Olympics after she had slipped during qualifying trials, but her teammate and friend Brittany Bowe gave up her own spot to ensure the world No. 1 was able to go to Beijing – and it paid off.
The 29-year-old Jackson is the first US woman to win a speed skating gold at the Olympics since Bonnie Blair did so in 1994, as well as the first Black woman to win an individual medal in speed skating at the Olympics, according to Team USA.
She finished 0.08 seconds ahead of Japan’s Miho Takagi in second and 0.17 seconds ahead of the Russian Olympic Committee’s Angelina Golikova in third.
“I cried immediately, it was just a big release of emotion. A lot of shock, a lot of relief and a lot of happiness. I haven’t fully processed everything quite yet, but it just feels amazing,” Jackson told reporters.
She added: “I had a little misstep on the backstretch, but I just tried to, I wouldn’t say recover, because it wasn’t anything big, but just tried to continue skating.”
At the US trials last month, Bowe had already qualified for the 1,000m and 1,500m in Beijing when she gave up her spot on the team to Jackson for the 500m.
“Right after the race, I knew that if it came down to me relinquishing my spot for her to be named on the team, I would do that because she deserves it,” Bowe told reporters earlier this week.
“She has earned the right to compete in her marquee event at the Olympics, and it was an honor to give her that spot for the opportunity to race for gold for Team USA.”
Jackson, meanwhile, spoke about the “flood of emotions” she experienced when Bowe gave up her spot, adding that “you don’t really know what you feel.”
After the race, she said the pair embraced: “She hugged me, said she is really proud of me, and I just said a lot of thank yous,” Jackson said.
Bowe ended up also competing in 500m after other countries returned qualifying slots for the Games and some were reallocated to the US. She placed 16th in a time of 38.04.
CNN’s Wayne Sterling contributed to reporting.