Team USA has its best chance at a speed skating medal back, thanks to some uncommon kindness from a teammate.
Erin Jackson, the top-ranked speed skater in the world in the 500 meters, will qualify for the upcoming Winter Olympics after teammate Brittany Bowe relinquished her spot in the event. Jackson had previously been on the outside looking in after a stumble in the trials left her sitting in third place.
Brittany Bowe told Erin Jackson - and U.S. Speed Skating - that she is relinquishing her 500m Olympic spot so Jackson - the best 500m skater in the world - can compete in Beijing.
There is still a chance the U.S. will earn a 3rd spot once quotas are reallocated.
— Alex Azzi (@AlexAzziNBC) January 9, 2022
That Jackson's Olympic qualification had to come to this is the result of a controversial set of circumstances.
Why Erin Jackson needed some help to make the Olympics
Jackson is currently ranked No. 1 in the world by the International Skating Union after winning four of eight World Cup events this season, plus two more podium finishes. While you would expect Olympic qualification to be a layup for someone with that resume, it turned out she was just a stumble away from missing out.
Jackson's stumble cost her precious fractions of a second in an event measured in the hundredths of a second, leaving her less than four-tenths of a second behind Bowe and second-place finisher Kimi Goetz. Only the top two finishers were allowed a spot on the Olympic team.
There had been some hope Jackson could get a re-skate and erase her mistake, but in an odd twist, it turned out she didn't fall down enough. The U.S. Speed Skating rules only allowed a re-skate in the event of a fall, something Jackson said she was aware of before the race.
A lack of discretionary spots and multiple attempts in the Team USA qualification process meant Jackson had only two routes left to Beijing: a teammate dropping out or the team getting an extra spot based on how other countries filled out their teams.
Thanks to Bowe, who previously hinted the team would try to figure out a way to get Jackson aboard, that route is now clear. Bowe will still make it to Beijing as well, as she also placed first in the U.S. trials in the 1,000-meter and 1,500-meter events.
Jackson and Bowe, who are good friends who share a hometown in Ocala, Florida, now represent Team USA's best chance at breaking a medal drought stretching back to 2002. No American woman has medaled in an individual event since the Salt Lake City Games, though the team did take bronze in the team pursuit in 2018.