SALT LAKE CITY - Jennifer Rodriguez has gotten used to to the cold. America’s top female speedskater grew up in Miami, which is kind of like a champion surfer growing up in Iowa.
Adjusting to cold was one of the biggest difficulties when she first tried the sport nearly 10 years ago. Everything else seemed to come so easily — less than two years after first trying the sport, she made the 1998 Olympic team, and four years later, at the 2002 Games, she won a pair of bronze medals. Rodriguez is aiming for more at the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy. She beat both United States records she holds during Fall World Cup 2, which concluded Sunday at the Utah Olympic Oval. On Sunday, she finished the 1,500-meter race in 1 minute, 54.61 seconds, improving her record by more than half a second and finishing sixth, less than two-tenths of a second away from a medal. Before racing on ice, Rodriguez was a top inline skater. Several other American speedskaters did the same, including her husband, KC Boutiette, who urged Rodriguez to make the switch to ice in 1996. “It was a difficult transition,” Rodriguez said. “Very, very frustrating for a good, long while.” Nearly a decade after trading wheels for blades, however, Rodriguez says she finally feels like a veteran. But she continues to learn more about speedskating each season. The biggest improvement in Rodriguez is she can feel more — her body position, the ice, how her skates carve it — and is able to verbalize it. “A few years ago, she couldn’t feel if she was skating on a curvature of a blade that was X number or Y number,” said Tom Cushman, Rodriguez’s coach. “Now she comes to me and says, ‘I think my skates, the bend might be a little bit off because I just don’t feel like I can quite hold onto them in the turn,’ and she’ll be right.” On Friday, Rodriguez broke her U.S. record in the 500 with a time of 37.87, which was good for third place. She was second and third in the two 1,000 meter races held Friday and Saturday. Rodriguez said the first 600-700 meters of her 1,500 on Sunday were the best she has skated ever. But that is less than half the race. “I think my skating is actually going pretty well, I’ve just got to work on my physical conditioning,” Rodriguez said of what needs improvement before the Olympics. “We’re kind of training through these (World Cup races). . . . Closer to the games the more we’re going to work on trying to peak.” Notes American Shani Davis set a world record in the men’s 1,000 meters. His time of 1:07.03 beat the previous mark by .15 seconds. “It was the best I could do today, and if the best I could do was a world record, it must not have been too bad,” he said. . . . Canada’s Cindy Klassen won the women’s 1,500 meters in 1:51.79, breaking the previous mark by over a second. . . . China’s Manli Wang won the second women’s 500 with China’s Beixing Wang placing second, reversing the order of the first running of the event Friday. CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0365 or email@example.com