A golden friendship on and off the ice for Ocala speedskaters

Two local Olympic champions show the world what it means to have someone’s back

MARION COUNTY, Fla. – The headlines were seen around the world:

“Team USA’s Erin Jackson becomes first Black woman to win Olympic speed skating gold.”

“Speed skater Erin Jackson makes history at Beijing Olympics.”

“Erin Jackson takes gold for the U.S. in women’s 500-meter speed skating.”

There was no doubt, 29-year-old Erin Jackson had solidified her place in history by becoming the first Black woman to win a medal in speed skating -- a gold medal at that.

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The young woman from Ocala, Florida made her country proud and put a small Central Florida town on the map.

But Jackson’s golden moment is about much more than a medal. It’s about a friendship forged on and off the ice with teammate Brittany Bowe.

Jackson, who had been an inline skater for years, put on a pair of ice skates for the first time in 2016. Fast forward 6 years and she was ranked number one at the Olympic trials.

But a slight wobble during her event put her Olympic dreams out of reach and likely on hold until the next winter games in 2026.

Jackson admits, for someone who has only been in the sport for a short time she has faced some challenges.

“I’ve had a lot of setbacks the short time I have been in the sport,” she explained. “But I feel like it just makes the high points that much better, to overcome those things, it was just even sweeter when it all pays off.”

While the payoff was big, it was Bowe who gave up her spot in the 500-meter race so Jackson could compete. Bowe also qualified for the women’s 1000-meter race where she won the bronze.

“No one makes it to the Olympic games on their own,” Bowe said during a recent Zoom interview with News 6.

“I did this because it was the right thing to do,” said Bowe. “She has earned and deserved this opportunity and the amount of support and love we have received made us kind of step back and realize like whoa, this really is a big story and it really does have a huge impact on the world around us,” Bowe explained.

It’s worth noting, Jackson and Bowe are both from Ocala and were inline skaters before strapping on ice skates.

When asked about Bowe’s incredible act of generosity and selflessness, Jackson said, “I think it just speaks to the amazing person she is.”

Jackson elaborated by saying, “What’s really cool is that we are both Bridgestone Athletes and one of their phrases is ‘what really matters,’ and I think that’s what really embodies it. She showed what really matters with the sportsmanship and her selflessness and I am just so grateful.”

As Bridgestone athletes, Jackson and Bowe embody the company’s belief that creating a positive and lasting impact in communities is paramount. While it is one thing to read those words and say sure, I get it. It’s something completely different to actually follow through and do it in such a public way.

What a great example for the world to witness these two women who were not tearing one another down, but actually extending a hand and lifting the other in such a way it caused many of us to pause and wonder if we would have done the same thing.

Bowe is quick to say this was Jackson’s time. “At the end of the day, this is about her. I am a part of that puzzle, but she went to that line and she won that Olympic gold medal and she has made history.

Keep in mind, there was no guarantee Jackson would win a medal.

But Bowe said after a fluke mistake at trials her friend deserved the chance to try.

“When you see someone else who has possibly lost an opportunity or doesn’t have the platform to achieve what they have set out to do and where I am in my career, I have the opportunity to gift that to somebody is just an honor,” said Bowe.

She also said it was an honor to watch Jackson not only earn gold but make history at the same time.

Bowe describes Jackson as the perfect ambassador to bring new faces to the winter sport.

“There’s not much diversity in winter sports, there’s no secret about that, so for Erin to be the first, a Black American female to ever, like ever do this, in how many Olympic games is incredible,” Bowe said with a big smile on her face.

“I’ve had people that have looked like me that I have been able to relate to and young Black girls have not had that representation. So for young Black females to have someone that looks like them, that’s relatable, is going to be massive in the future of winter sports,” said Bowe.

A fact that is not lost on Jackson. “It’s amazing, you know, like the moms or the parents reaching out and saying you really inspired my daughter because she hadn’t previously seen anyone like her in these winter sports in the Winter Games,” said Jackson with her gold medal adorning her neck.

“The visibility is super important. And I’m just happy to be, you know, like a new face that could possibly inspire someone.”

Jackson isn’t content having won an Olympic gold medal. She’s already thinking about what’s next.

“I am a perfectionist,” she said half laughing. “I have the gold medal but I still have so many things that I want to perfect. I am really self-motivated and I want to be like better than I was yesterday. No matter what I accomplish I still want to keep getting better.”

The city of Ocala will honor Jackson, Bowe and Men’s speedskater Joey Mantia with a parade on Saturday.


About the Author:

Ginger Gadsden joined the News 6 team in June 2014 as an anchor/reporter. She currently co-anchors the 4 p.m. 5:30 p.m. and the 7 p.m. newscasts.