“This is an absolute honor of a lifetime,” Brittany Bowe said on Friday (Feb. 4), on joining five-time Olympic curler John Shuster in leading Team USA in the 2020 Beijing Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony. Brittany, 33, and John, 39, carried the American flag as Team USA joined the Parade of Nations. Brittany spoke with NBC News about the opportunity to lead the Americans, saying, “I can’t think of a more powerful and uniting moment as an athlete and as an American. And it’s an absolute honor to lead Team USA into the Opening Ceremony.” (h/t PEOPLE).
Brittany was elected to replace Elana Meyers Taylor, a bobsledder who has medaled over the past three winter games. Unfortunately, Elana, 37, tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of the games. So, Brittany stepped up, and she did a great job. Coverage of the ceremony showed her family cheering her on in Ocala, Florida. No foreign spectators are allowed in the country as part of China’s efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Here’s what you need to know about Brittany:
1. Brittany Bowe Is A Speed Skater
Born Brittany Starr Bow on Feb. 24, 1988, the Ocala, Florida native began her Olympic journey when she was eight years old, when she first tried inline skating for the first time, per the Chicago Tribune. Bowe put on ice skates for the first time in July 2010, and since then, she has racked up an impressive list of accolades. As of 2022, she had seven gold, eight silver, and five bronze World Championship medals. The 2020 Beijing games mark her third Olympics, as she competed in the 2018 Pyeongchang and 2014 Sochi games.
Bowe already has an Olympic medal, taking home the bronze in Team Pursuit in 2018. She’s looking to add to that in 2022.
2. Brittany Bowe Is A Baller
At first, Brittany’s love was basketball. She began dribbling at two years old. She tried her hand at soccer but gave that up when the schedule overlapped with basketball. She was a two-sport athlete, playing basketball and inline skating as a teen. After the 2008 inline world championships, she took a break to focus on her basketball career. She played as a point guard for Florida Atlantic University.
“Basketball and speedskating are at different ends of the athletic technique spectrum,” Ryan Shimabukuro, the then-U.S. long-track sprint team head coach, told the Chicago Tribune in 2012. “What Brittany brought from basketball is overall athleticism and knowing how to work very well in a team environment.”
After graduating, she decided to double down on skating. She moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2010 and became a speed skater.
3. Brittany Bowe Is A Team Player
Ahead of the 2022 Olympics, Brittany won the 500m at the Olympic Trials. However, she decided to give up her spot in the 500m to Erin Jackson. Jackson, the world’s top-ranked 500m skater, slipped during her race at trials and finished third, per NBC Sports. Erin is the first Black woman to win a skating World Cup race and was one of the favorites to win gold in the 500. “In my heart, there was never a question that I would do whatever it took — if it came down to me — to get Erin to skate at the Olympics,” said Brittany, per Elite Daily.
At the time, the U.S. was only allowed two guaranteed spots in the event. Brittany, whose best races are the 1000m and 1500m, gave up her place to allow Erin to compete. However, karma repaid Brittany for her gesture. Some nations returned their Olympic quota spots, and free spots are given to skaters named to the team in other events. Since Brittany qualified for the 1000m/1500m, she qualified for a spot in the 500m. Now, both she and Erin will go for the gold in that event.
4. Brittany Bowe Is Part Of The LGBTQ+ Community
When Brittany qualified for the 1000m race in Beijing 20202, she became the first publicly-out LGBTQ athlete to earn a spot on the USA’s Olympic team. She is openly gay, but her personal life is not a topic of discussion when it comes to interviews. Instead, she keeps her focus on her competition and her athletic performance, according to Out Sports.
5. Brittany Bowe Almost Had To Give Up Skating
In 2016, Brittany suffered a concussion after a collision in training. She was cleared to return to the ice after a few weeks, but she continued to experience symptoms. “A number of challenges arose after my injury,” she wrote in a 2017 essay. She suffered nausea, vertigo, and balance problems. She also suffered a less common complication: postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS). This forced her to cut her season short and take time to recuperate. ”
“I needed to do myself a favor and heal,” she wrote. “I went home to Florida to escape the thought of ‘pushing through’ and give my body the time it needed to repair itself…but in this case, going home to Florida to take time to relax only escalated dysfunction for me. There were days I would walk outside to get some fresh air and after about 10 minutes of being on my feet, my heart rate would be in the 140s and I would nearly faint. Scared, frustrated, and completely demoralized, I wasn’t sure if returning to sport would even be an option for me.” After working with doctors, she recovered and got back on the ice.