Speed Skater Erin Jackson Shares the Secret Sauce Behind Her Olympic Win
Erin Jackson typically isn't one to break under pressure.
This season, the speed skater won gold four times on the World Cup circuit and became a national record holder in the 500-meter race. Naturally, the 29-year-old was feeling "pretty confident and relaxed" in the lead-up to the Winter Olympics, she tells Shape. "That's when I really started to think, 'Oh, maybe an Olympic medal could be in my future.'"
But Jackson's shot at that coveted medal nearly slipped away from her at the U.S. Trials back in January. During the 500-meter race, the world champ stumbled on the ice, causing her to finish in third place — one position away from securing a spot on the Olympic team. It was one of the few moments she felt truly stressed about the Games, she admits. "I [was] trying to only freak out about things that I can control," she explains. "I was more focused on like, 'Okay, this happened. What next?' I [was] just seeing what options were available to me — if I could get a re-skate in the race or if there was some metal contender petition."
In an act of extraordinary sportsmanship, Jackson's teammate Brittany Bowe, who had finished first in the race and also qualified for the 1,000- and 1,500-meter events, gave up her chance to skate in the 500-meter competition. In turn, Jackson was bumped up to second place and clinched a position on the Olympic team. "She was like, 'Well, we can't leave you home. We need you to go race at the Games,'" Jackson recalls. "...It was really awesome of her. It was emotional, of course, and I was super grateful." (Related: Olympic Bobsledder Elana Meyers Taylor Is Proving Female Athletes Aren't 'Tapped Out at 25')
Thanks to a twist of fate, the International Skating Union granted the U.S. a third spot in the 500-meter race, and both Jackson and Bowe were able to compete in the event in the end. Jackson didn't let the opportunity go to waste; she nabbed the gold medal in her signature event, finishing in just 37.04 seconds and becoming the first Black woman to win an individual gold medal at the Winter Olympics, according to the International Olympic Committee. (ICYWW, Bowe earned the bronze medal in the 1,000-meter event.)
Jackson says she never imagined she'd smash records and become a history-making speed skater — nor did she picture herself competing in the Olympics. The 29-year-old started her athletic career out as an inline skater. "When I would say that I was [an inline] skater and I'd go to world championships, people would say, 'Oh, well, maybe I'll see you in the Olympics someday,'" she recalls. "And then I would say, 'Oh, no, my sport's not an Olympic sport, so this is of the most I can do.'" After graduating college, though, Jackson started to seriously consider speed skating, she says. Just five months after picking up the sport and switching from the roller rink to ice, she made her Olympic debut in PyeongChang, where she finished 24th in the 500-meter race.
Jackson's success isn't a result of beginner's luck. Leading up to the Beijing Games, Jackson trained on the ice five days a week, hit the gym twice a week, and pushed through tough cardio workouts in between, she says. And taking it easy during this prep period has never been an option. "My inline coach from back in Florida, Renee Hildebrand…used to always say, 'Perfect practice makes perfect,'" says Jackson. "It's not just 'Practice makes perfect' — if you practice something the wrong way, then you're just going to reinforce the wrong way. That's something I've held onto over the years, to make every practice count." (Feeling inspired? Grab one of these best roller skates and embrace your inner speed skater.)
Even though she gives her all during drills and workouts, Jackson isn't necessarily eager to tackle every activity in her training regimen. "If you had asked me several years ago, I would've said running was my worst form of cardio," jokes Jackson. "But once I moved out to Salt Lake City, they got me on the bike doing road cycling. That was my first time doing that, so now I hate that the most, and running is okay. It's lesser of two evils, I guess."
After a breathless race or grueling workout, Jackson turns to food to fuel her recovery. If she can't eat a full-fledged meal after a race, the two-time Olympian often concocts a thick and fruity smoothie loaded with bananas, berries, or tropical fruits; lactose-free milk or yogurt; peanut butter; oats; and Cheribundi Tart Cherry Juice (Buy It, $29, amazon.com) for "extra recovery," says Jackson, a partner with the brand. (FTR, research suggests sipping on tart cherry juice can help ease post-workout muscle soreness.)
Only two weeks have passed since Jackson's monumental win in Beijing, but the gold medalist says she already has her sights set on competing in the 2026 Winter Games in Italy. In the meantime, she's crossing her fingers that she'll be able to add "Olympic inline skater" to her résumé, as well. "I mean, if inline became an Olympic sport, I'd be right back at it," says Jackson. "It would be cool to do both on the Olympic level."