Erin Jackson and Brittany Bowe of Team USA take part in a training session at the National Speed Skating Oval in Beijing, capital of China, Jan. 30, 2022.
Wu Wei—Xinhua via Getty Images
February 11, 2022 7:00 AM EST

When Team USA’s Erin Jackson slipped during a 500-m long-track speedskating trial, the athlete, who was ranked No. 1 in the world, thought her chance of competing at the 2022 Winter Olympic Games had slipped away, too. Then an unexpected act of generosity changed it all. Jackson’s long-time friend Brittany Bowe, who had finished first in the trial and qualified in other events, gave up her spot in the 500-m race so Jackson could compete.

For Bowe, it was an easy decision. “I thought she earned it and she deserved it,” Bowe said in an interview. Jackson was incredibly moved by her friend’s graciousness, but more than happy to accept, too, posting on Instagram that she was “incredibly grateful and humbled” by Bowe’s kindness. “She’s an amazing friend, teammate, and mentor and this is an act I’ll never forget. You can bet I’ll be the loudest voice in the oval cheering for her in the 1000 and 1500 next month,” Jackson wrote in an Instagram caption.

Now, the U.S. Olympic team has picked up an extra spot in the 500-m race and Bowe has been added to the roster for the event and will be able to compete alongside Jackson. “She’s an amazing person and amazing friend, an amazing teammate, and I’m so glad her good karma came back so quickly,” Jackson said on NBC ahead of the Opening Ceremony on Friday morning. It’s a fitting capstone to a friendship that has spanned decades.

Bowe and Jackson’s start in Florida

“I grew up with Brittany,” Jackson told Team USA’s blog. “I have known her almost my whole life.” Jackson and Bowe both grew up in Ocala, Florida and trained on the same inline speed skating team there, coached by Renee Hildebrand, where they both earned accolades and won championships. Jackson is four years younger than Bowe and always looked up to her. So when Bowe transitioned to the ice Jackson paid attention. Bowe was very good on ice, too—representing the U.S. in the 2014 and 2018 Olympics and earning eight gold medals in world championship events.

It was no real surprise that a few years later, in 2017, Jackson followed her friend into the world of ice speedskating. She needed only a few months on the ice before qualifying for the 2018 Winter Games, becoming the first Black woman to make the U.S. long-track team.

While Jackson finished 24th in the 500 m in PyeongChang, by 2021 she was dominating the field, winning four of eight World Cup events in the 500. When Jackson won at the race in November, she became the first Black American woman to win a World Cup speedskating race. Her biggest booster? Brittany Bowe. “She’s an amazing friend, teammate, and mentor who is always willing to help me both on and off the ice,” Jackson told People in an interview.

Erin Jackson and Brittany Bowe speak to the media during the 2022 U.S. Speedskating Long Track Olympic Trials at Pettit National Ice Center on Jan. 9, 2022 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Stacy Revere—Getty Images)
Erin Jackson and Brittany Bowe speak to the media during the 2022 U.S. Speedskating Long Track Olympic Trials at Pettit National Ice Center on Jan. 9, 2022 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Stacy Revere—Getty Images

Bowe’s generosity for Jackson’s 2022 Olympics

Fast forward to 2022 and Bowe is still rooting for Jackson. When Jackson slipped on the ice during the Olympic Trials, it didn’t take Bowe long to decide to give up her spot. According to ESPN, right after the event “Bowe walked up to Jackson, hugged her and assured her good friend that if she had anything to do with it, Jackson would be joining her in Beijing.” After talking with Team USA, the announcement was made that Bowe had relinquished her spot. She quickly chalked it up to good sportsmanship. “It’s just the spirit of the Olympics,” Bowe said, “and being a great teammate. It’s bigger than just me—it’s Team USA. Erin has a shot to bring home a medal—hopefully a gold medal—and it’s my honor to give her that opportunity.”

Jackson, though, won’t let her friend downplay her generosity. “She’s always been there for me, helping me out, even when I was just, like, the new kid back in Ocala,” Jackson said of Bowe in an interview Team USA shared on Twitter. “She’s always been an awesome mentor and an amazing person. Someone who I can talk to if I need a friend or advice or anything. It’s an amazing relationship, and I’m just so grateful.”

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