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Erin Jackson almost didn't make Olympic Team USA, but luckily a friend stepped in

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

When Erin Jackson went from in-line skating to Olympic speedskating, she spent just four months training on ice. Then she made the U.S. team for the 2018 Winter Games.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Going into the 2022 Olympics, Erin Jackson has only gotten faster. She now leads the World Cup in the women's 500-meter event, and she seemed like a shoe-in to qualify for Team USA again.

KAREN ROSEN: As the No. 1 ranked woman in the 500, everyone just assumed that Erin would just walk away with the Olympic trials race.

SHAPIRO: That's Karen Rosen, who covered the long-track speedskating trials for NBC Sports. She noted that Erin Jackson was the first Black woman to represent the U.S. in the discipline, and at these trials, things were going well for Jackson until they weren't.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED COMMENTATOR: ...Put together. Whoa, big slip. Big slip for Erin Jackson. That's going to cost you at least a few tenths of a second.

KELLY: That big slip looks more like a minor wobble to the untrained eye. But the 500-meter race is just over half a minute long, so fractions of a second make a huge difference.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED COMMENTATOR: That slip left the door open for Erin Jackson to possibly not make this team.

SHAPIRO: Jackson finished in third, and only the top two automatically make the U.S. team. So at first, the world's No. 1 skater wasn't going to the Olympics.

KELLY: Jackson said she couldn't sleep afterwards, but then her friend gave her a call.

BRITTANY BOWE: Erin has earned her right to be on this 500-meter team. I knew in my mind before that night was even over that if it had to come down to a decision of mine, she could have my place.

KELLY: Brittany Bowe had the fastest time at trials but decided to give up her spot in the Olympic race to Erin Jackson. Both Bowe and Jackson grew up in Ocala, Fla. They've been friends since childhood.

ERIN JACKSON: I've grown up with Brittany. I've known her, like, almost my whole life, you know, grown up looking up to her in Ocala. And, like, I've always known what an incredible person she is.

SHAPIRO: Friends or not, giving up a spot on any Olympic team just isn't something you see very often, says reporter Karen Rosen.

ROSEN: Athletes prepare four years for the Olympic trials, and it can be cutthroat.

SHAPIRO: Now, it helps that Brittany Bowe qualified for the Olympics and two other events - the 1,000 and 1,500-meter races. The 500 was not her top focus, but it's what Erin Jackson specializes in.

BOWE: Yeah. It's just the spirit of the Olympics and being a great teammate, and, yes, it's bigger than just me. It's Team USA.

KELLY: Both teammates will now go for gold in Beijing next month.

(SOUNDBITE OF METRONYMY SONG, "THE LOOK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.