+
A PERSONAL MESSAGE FROM UPWORTHY
We are a small, independent media company on a mission to share the best of humanity with the world.
If you think the work we do matters, pre-ordering a copy of our first book would make a huge difference in helping us succeed.
GOOD PEOPLE Book
upworthy

olympic games

Erin Jackson just made history as the first Black woman to win an individual Olympic speedskating medal.

It's only been six years since Erin Jackson first strapped on a set of ice skates. Now she's the best female 500-meter speedskater on the planet.

Impressive? Um, yes.

Jackson, 29, just took home gold skating the 500-meter in the Olympics for Team USA, making her the first Black woman and just the second Black athlete to win an individual Olympic medal in any speedskating event. A historic moment, for sure, but the journey that brought Jackson to that moment is fascinating in more ways than one.

First of all, despite being the No. 1 ranked skater in the women's 500-meter going into the Olympic trials, Jackson slipped during her qualifying race and came in third. Only the top two finishers qualified for the Olympics, so she was out. However, her teammate and long-time friend Britanny Bowe, who came in first, gave up her spot so that Jackson could compete with Team USA. ("She deserves it," said Bowe, who would already be competing in the 1000-meter and 1500-meter Olympic races.)


"I'm incredibly grateful and humbled by the kindness of @BrittanyBowe in helping me to secure a chance at reaching my goals in #Beijing2022," Jackson wrote in an Instagram post. "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."

Considering the fact that Jackson brought home the gold, it was clearly the right call. As luck would have it, Bowe still got to compete in the 500-meter race, as the U.S. was granted a third spot in the International Skating Union’s final reallocation of places. She came in 16th.

So how did Jackson go from taking her first steps on the ice just six years ago to winning a gold medal in speedskating?

Jackson came into the sport as a world-class inline skater and artistic roller skater, so she was no stranger to gliding across a surface in boots. But according to Jackson's speedskating coach, Ryan Shimabukuro, ice-skating and rollerblading are two different beasts.

"There is a big difference in how you deliver power through a blade on ice versus through wheels on cement or concrete," Shimabukuro told NBC. "The timing of your push is different, how you apply force is different, your body position is different.”

Speedskating didn't come easily, Jackson told NBC. “When I started out on ice, I was like, ‘I’m a speedskater, and this is speedskating, and why isn’t this coming easier?’" she said. "I really struggled at the beginning."

Jackson was an eager learner, however, always asking questions about how to improve and asking Shimabukuro to explain things a different way if it wasn't clicking. In just two years, she made it to her first Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, where she placed 24th in the 500-meter event. Since then, she's only gotten better and better, winning her third straight World Cup championship in November 2021 and now the Olympic gold in Beijing.

Congratulations, Erin Jackson, not only for making history, but for showing the world what hard work can accomplish.

And thanks to Brittany Bowe for showing us what selflessness and friendship can accomplish as well.

@SportsJoe/Twitter, @EttachkilaTN/Twitter

Ahmed Hafnaoui had the swim of his life at just the right time on Sunday. After eeking into the men's 400-meter medal race in last place out of the eight finalists, the 18-year-old swimmer from Tunisia shocked everyone by taking home the gold in the event at the Tokyo Olympics.

Prior to the semi-finals, Hafnaoui wasn't even listed in the DraftKings Sportsbook odds of winning list, so the fact that he overtook the Australian favorites to win was extra impressive. Australia's Jack McLoughlin won the silver and American Kieran Smith took home the bronze, and though the race was close, it wasn't that close by swimming standards. Hafnaoui was the fastest swimmer, hands-down, after being the slowest of the finalists just the day before.

This, as they say, is why they play the games.

And this footage of Hafnaoui's loved ones in Tunisia reacting to his epic win is why everyone loves an underdog.


In a video originally shared by Tunisian sports news channel ETTACHKILA, Hafnaoui's family is heard cheering and screaming as they watch him swim in medal contention throughout the race. But as they watch him retake the lead in the final stretch and touch the wall first, their joy is palpable. (Definitely want the sound up for this—just maybe not too high.)

A win is always exciting, but a win by someone who was given slim-to-no chance at even medaling is incredible to watch. Talk about peaking at just the right time. Simply incredible.

A clearly overwhelmed Hafnaoui told NBC, "I just can't believe that. It's amazing."

He said he felt better in the water this morning than yesterday, and that he just put his head in the water. "And that's it," he said.

"I'm Olympic champion now," he added. "I just can't believe."

Congratulations to Hamed Hafnaoui and Tunisia, as well as all of Hafnaoui's loved ones. Thanks for giving us the Olympic thrill we love to see.


True
DICK'S Sporting Goods

The year was 1904, and it was the United States’ first time hosting the Olympic Games.

This should have been an exciting moment, but America’s inaugural games in St. Louis were actually kind of a mess.

St. Louis wasn’t even supposed to be the host city of the games — Chicago was.


The Windy City had won the bid to host the 1904 Summer Olympics, but the games’ time frame overlapped with the Louisiana Purchase Convention (also known as the 1904 World’s Fair) in St. Louis, a more popular and established event. World’s Fair officials were unwilling to allow a “rival” event to take place in another city, forcing Olympic officials to move the games to St. Louis. The games were no longer a standalone event.

[rebelmouse-image 19533892 dam="1" original_size="512x387" caption="1904 World's Fair. Photo via David R. Francis, "The Universal Exposition of 1904"/Wikimedia Commons." expand=1]1904 World's Fair. Photo via David R. Francis, "The Universal Exposition of 1904"/Wikimedia Commons.

To make matters worse, by July — less than two months before the games began — no invitations to other countries had been extended. But even if the invitations had gone out on time, it was unlikely Europe would make a strong showing due to political tensions back home and the considerable distance to travel. The result was an Olympic delegation that, by default, skewed heavily American, with only 42 of the 651 athletes coming from non-U.S. nations.

The games were also host to politicking, scandals, practical jokes, and bad luck — all of which made for a colorful retrospective, but a lackluster event at the time.

However, amid the chaos and countless obstacles the athletes faced in St. Louis, the event served as a showcase for many Olympic records and firsts.

The fact that the games served as a de facto American platform didn’t curb the competitive fire of the athletes who did show up; many had trained their entire lives for the opportunity.

One such athlete was University of Michigan runner Archie Hahn.

Having won events at the 1903 Intercollegiate Championships, expectations were high for the multitalented track athlete. Hahn didn’t disappoint, winning gold in all three of his events: the 60 meters, the 100 meters, and the 200 meters. In the latter event, Hahn set an Olympic record time of 21.6 seconds. His record stood for 28 years and endured better-attended games in the future.

Another was George Eyser, a gymnast with a wooden prosthetic leg who competed for the American team.

[rebelmouse-image 19533893 dam="1" original_size="512x377" caption="Concordia Turnverein Gymnastic Team, 1908. George Eyser is in the center. Photo by Louis Melsheimer/Missouri Historical Society/Wikimedia Commons." expand=1]Concordia Turnverein Gymnastic Team, 1908. George Eyser is in the center. Photo by Louis Melsheimer/Missouri Historical Society/Wikimedia Commons.

A German immigrant, Eyser had lost his leg in a train accident as a child, but he stood out as the premiere talent in his local St. Louis gymnastics team. And at the 1904 Games, he won six medals — five of them in a single day — securing his place in American Olympic history.

It would be over a century before the Olympics would see another amputee compete in the games.

While this Olympiad was far from flawless, it secured a place in athletic history not just with the individual athletic achievements it provided, but also the bevy of new sports it hosted.

Prior to the St. Louis Olympics, boxing, freestyle wrestling, and the decathlon had never been medal events. A century later, it’s hard to imagine the Olympics without them.

Other introduced events, such as tug-of-war, don’t feel quite so essential because, well, they didn’t stick around too long. The six-member event debuted in 1904 with the U.S. winning all three medals, but it lasted only through the 1920 Games before its elimination. Nonetheless, many modern fans have been clamoring for its return to the Olympics.

[rebelmouse-image 19533895 dam="1" original_size="640x363" caption="1904 tug-o-war game. Photo by Charles Lucas/Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons." expand=1]1904 tug-o-war game. Photo by Charles Lucas/Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons.

These new events and the athletes they featured may have been foreign to many at the time, but they quickly won the hearts of fans the world over.

The inaugural U.S. Games ultimately served as a reminder — albeit a rocky one — that the spirits of Olympic competition and unity persevere even under the most bizarre circumstances. An Olympic athlete is trained to be tenacious in the face of adversity, and nowhere have we seen this better than the sparsely attended, poorly planned 1904 St. Louis Summer Olympics.

These games may not hold a spot in the pantheon of legendary Olympiads, but they still highlight the accomplishments and spirit of the athletes who participated. The enduring and unlikely legacies stemming from these games remind even the most jaded fans that the Olympics exist as a platform for the athletes.

The chaotic affair also served as a pioneering event, paving the way for United States’ rich history in the games in both hosting and competing.

This story was produced as part of a campaign called "17 Days" with DICK'S Sporting Goods. These stories aim to shine a light on real occurrences of sports bringing people together.

At the Olympic Games, you can see what victory looks like.

Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

At the Paralympic Games, you can hear it too.

Amanda McGrory, Tatyana McFadden, and Chelsea McClammer of the United States after competing in the women's club throw. Photo by Lucas Uebel/Getty Images.


For the first time, winning Paralympic athletes are receiving medals filled with tiny steel balls, which allow champions with visual impairment to experience their wins aurally — by shaking them.

U.S. swimmer Bradley Snyder listens to his gold medal. Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images.

The number of balls increases by place — 16 for bronze, 20 for silver, and 28 for gold — so that the medals each make a different sound.

"Our hope, and I think it's the Olympic Committee's hope too, is that this becomes the style," Victor Hugo Berbert, the manager overseeing the medal's sound feature, told the International Business Times. "That the next games bring other sensory elements for the athletes and that this might carry on."

Though Paralympic medals have featured braille before, the shakeable medal is an attempt to make the games even more accessible to all athletes with disabilities.

The pre-cursor to the modern Paralympics — then called the Stoke-Mandeville Games — first took place in London in 1948. The athletes, mostly disabled World War II veterans, had to be in wheelchairs to compete.

By the time the Paralympic Games were officially founded in 1960, visually impaired competitors, amputees, paraplegics, and persons with cerebral palsy still couldn't participate. Paraplegic athletes were first included in 1968 and after 16 years of organizing and lobbying — led by the International Sport Organization for the Disabled and its 16 affiliated countries — the games finally granted inclusion to blind and amputee athletes in 1976, and athletes with cerebral palsy in 1980.

Since 1992, the games have been hosted in the same city as the Olympics to foster a sense of equality between the two events.

A representative for the games told PRI that athletes have been referring to the rattling of the medal as the "sound of victory."

Lynda Hamri of Algeria shakes her bronze medal. Photo by Lucas Uebel/Getty Images.

For winners with vision loss and their competitors, it's a hugely welcome development.

But don't worry, champions: They still taste like victory too.

Eva Berna of Czech Republic, after winning bronze in the women's shot put.