Dade's Rodriguez wins a 2nd bronze medal at Olympics
BY LINDA ROBERTSON
HERALD STAFF WRITER
KEARNS, Utah … Jennifer RodrÏguez bent over, put her hands on her
knees and coughed and coughed and coughed. She always
coughs after the 1,500-meter race, when her throat feels like tree bark.
What she wanted most of all was to sit down and extinguish the bonfire in her legs.
But there was no chance to rest. Not quite yet. As soon as Rodriguez took
off her skates and put on her shoes, she was being
escorted down the infield of the speedskating track. She was wanted at the podium.
It was time for her bronze medal encore. It was her moment to take a bow.
Rodriguez became the first Miamian and the first Cuban American to win
not just one but two Winter Olympic
medals Wednesday with her second third-place finish in three days.
Unlike Sunday, when a slip in the 1,000 meters probably cost her a silver
medal, she glided around the Utah
Olympic Oval without the slightest skid and finished the metric mile in 1 minute 55.32 seconds.
Germany's Anni Friesinger, skating three pairs earlier, broke her own world
record to win the gold medal with a
time of 1:54.02. Germany's Sabine Voelker got the silver.
"Six years ago I never thought this would be possible,'' said Rodriguez,
who first tried speedskating in 1996, at
age 20. "It's awesome. I couldn't really enjoy the 1,000 bronze because I still had the 1,500. Now that it's over, I
can look back and be very satisfied with my Olympics.''
From Kendall to Salt Lake City, from the birthplace of Miami Vice to the
nickname "Miami Ice,'' from sunburned to
windburned, the remarkable J-Rod odyssey didn't end Wednesday, but she is taking a break before competing in
European World Cup events.
After three grueling races, starting with seventh place in the 3,000 on
Feb. 10, Rodriguez decided not to compete
in Saturday's 5,000 meters miles), which is her weakest event. If she had, she would have been the only woman
to compete in four Olympic events, as she was in 1998.
She'll earn $10,000 for each of her bronze medals from the U.S. Olympic Committee.
"I think I'll skate another four years,'' she said. "As for now, I'm done.
I'm going to hit the slopes, go
snowboarding and take a few days off.''
Rodriguez, a former world champion roller and in-line skater, won the U.S.
long-track speedskating team's eighth
medal. Chris Witty finished fifth. Friesinger's world record was the sixth in eight events so far at the super-slick
But Rodriguez knew when she tested the ice Wednesday that fast times would
be hard to come by. It was raining
outside, which made it more humid inside, which means it was more difficult for the rink's "ice meister,'' Marc
Norman, to reduce condensation on the track's surface.
"Yesterday when I stepped on the ice I said, 'Wow, this is fast; no wonder
those guys skated record times,'‚''
Rodriguez said of the men's 1,500. "But today the ice was not particularly fast. Anni and Sabine had the only
times I was impressed with.'' The other girls looked like they were struggling.''
Rodriguez was in the advantageous position of skating in the final pair.
She knew the times to beat. She started
strong with the fourth-fastest opening lap of the day but lacked a kick at the end to overtake the Germans. It was
the first race of the Salt Lake City Games in which Rodriguez did not set a personal record. Her time was
six-hundredths of a second off her best of 1:55.26.
But RodrÏguez, 25, was much happier than she had been Sunday, when she regretted the slip that cost her time.
"I was very nervous before this race,'' she said. "The more medals we won
the more pressure I felt. My coach
asked me, 'Are you OK in the head?' I've been so serious, so focused. Now I can relax.''
She can spend some time with her parents, who have been staying in her
Park City condominium while she
stayed at the Athletes Village. Father Joe, mother Barbara, brother Eric and a dozen friends were in the stands
again, behind the Dutch brass band, waving "Miami Ice'' and "Miami Loves Jenny'' signs.
"We'll take two,'' said Joe. "I knew Anni was coming in like a bullet because
she hadn't picked up any medals and
this was her race.''
He and his wife got a congratulatory call from the office of Miami-Dade
County Mayor Alex Penelas and the
promise of a homecoming celebration for Jennifer, a Palmetto High graduate. She heard from friends in Coconut
Grove that drinks were being passed out on the house when she won the bronze Sunday.
But Rodriguez has no illusions about her profile in her hometown or the sports world.
"It all fades away very quickly. You're in the spotlight for five minutes,'' she said.
"I'm a speedskater. Nobody cares.''
Nevertheless, her passion for the obscure, painful and financially unrewarding
sport hasn't waned. She got
hooked on it when her fiancÎ, former in-line skater and three-time Olympian KC Boutiette, persuaded her to get
on the ice in Milwaukee and aim for the Olympics.
"I knew of Bonnie Blair and Dan Jansen, but I never thought I'd be here,'' she said.
"When I did switch over at age 20, I thought it was too late.''
Rodriguez said she'd like to see more speedskating rinks built around the
country so kids with talent could be
introduced to the sport and wouldn't have to move up north, as she did.
Soon, Rodriguez will go from the podium to the altar.
She and Boutiette are getting married in Miami Beach on April 13. Derek
Parra, who won gold and silver medals
here, and his wife, Tiffany, a former in-line skater, will be in the wedding party.
Rodriguez and Boutiette will honeymoon in St. Lucia, where they plan to thaw out.
As for a permanent return to Miami, that's doubtful.
Rodriguez has learned to love the seasons.
"Miami has gotten so overcrowded,'' RodrÏguez said.
"And it is so hot.''