Rodriguez, Jennifer: 1976—: Olympic Speed Skater

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Jennifer Rodriguez: 1976: Olympic speed skater

Jennifer Rodriguez was the first Hispanic-American to win a medal in the Winter Olympic Games. She first won acclaim as an in-line skater before switching to ice speed-skating. She competed in the 1998 Nagano Olympics and at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. In Salt Lake City, she won two bronze medals.

Turned to Ice Skating from Roller Skating

The daughter of a Cuban father and an American mother, Jennifer Rodriguez grew up in Miami, Florida. Her father, Joe Rodriguez, left Cuba as a young teen in the early 1960s in order to make a fresh start in the United States. Jennifer began roller skating as a young girl, and when she was 16, she won five gold medals and a bronze medal at the 1992 Junior World Championships. She is the only roller skater ever to win medals in both artistic skating and racing.

In 1996 Rodriguez's boyfriend, K.C. Boutiette, a three-time Olympian speedskater and former in-line skater, convinced her to try speedskating. She moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where the U.S. Olympic Speedskating Team trained. Less than 18 months later, she became a member of the team.

However, it was not always easy. Boutiette told Charean Williams of the Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, "I just had to really help her along and say, 'You know what? One of these days you'll see. You'll start catching on. You'll get used to your blades, and you'll be fine.' One day, she just started accelerating."

Rodriguez told Ellen Cosgrove in Sports Illustrated for Kids that the switch was helped by the fact that the two sports use similar muscles and motions. "I had roller-skated for such a long time. I knew my body very well. That helped with my balance and coordination." She added that "after two weeks of skating on ice, something just clicked, and it started to be so much fun."

Moving to Milwaukee was a more difficult adjustment because of the cold climate. Rodriguez told Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle, "I really hated it. I was crying every day. It was cold. I didn't have any [warm] clothes. I wore all of K.C.'s clothes."

Competed in Nagano Olympics

By 1998 Rodriguez had improved enough to compete at the Nagano Olympics. Coach Tom Cushman told the Houston Chronicle, "She shocked the speedskating world." Rodriguez was only the second woman ever to compete in four Olympic speedskating events, and she finished in the top ten in three of them. In the 3,000 meters she came in fourth, just missing the bronze medal. She was the first American woman to compete in four winter events since skater Beth Heiden in 1980.

At a Glance . . .

Born June 8, 1976, in Miami, Florida; daughter of Joe and Barbara Rodriguez; married K.C. Boutiette, April 13, 2002. Education: Florida International School; Carroll College, Waukesha, WI.

Career: In-line skater; speedskater.

Awards: Five gold medals and one bronze medal, Junior World Rollerskating Championships, 1992; bronze medals, 1,000 meters and 1,500 meters, Salt Lake City Olympics, 2002.

Address: Office c/o U.S. Speedskating, P.O. Box 450639, Westlake, OH 44145.

Rodriguez is the first Hispanic-American to compete in the Winter Olympics. She told Sports Illustrated For Kids that she was proud of this fact and noted, "I get a lot of support from the Hispanic population." She told the Houston Chronicle that she was disappointed that her father spoke only English at home and did not teach her Spanish when she was growing up: "Being a role model and spokesperson for Hispanics is something that's very important to me."

In 2000 Rodriguez and Boutiette moved to Utah to train at the high altitude where the 2002 Olympic Games would be held. At the U.S. Olympic Trials for the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, Rodriguez hoped to qualify to compete in the 1,000-meter, 1,500-meter, 3,000-meter, and 5,000-meter speedskating events. She told the Houston Chronicle, "At the last Games, I was just thrown into the mix. Four years have gone by, and I've definitely had my ups and downs since then. I'm definitely on my way back up. Now, instead of just going out to see what I can do, I definitely want to medal."

Salt Lake City Olympics

At the Salt Lake City Olympics, Rodriguez came in seventh in the 3,000 meters and won a bronze in the 1,000 meters even though she slipped in the final turn. In the 1,500 meters she won another bronze medal, though she did become tired in the last lap. The race was difficult because of the high altitude and because the ice was somewhat mushy and slow. Rodriguez told Sports Illustrated For Kids that she is strongest at the beginning of a race: "I'm real aggressive. A lot of times, I get really tired at the end because I give too much in the beginning. My legs are like rocks."

Happy with her Olympic performance, Rodriguez told Houston Chronicle's Justice, "I wanted a medal. I didn't care what color it was." She admitted, "I don't think I've ever been more nervous before a race than I was today." The skater added, "Four years ago, I never thought this was possible. Now I can relax and go snowboarding or hit the slopes."

With her two bronze medals, Rodriguez became the first Hispanic to win two Winter Olympic medals. Although Rodriguez qualified to skate in the 5,000-meter race, she opted out of it. The race is long and grueling and is her weakest event. Had she competed in that race, she would have been the only woman at the Games to compete in four events, as she was in 1998 at Nagano. Rodriguez said she hoped to skate for another four years, and plans to compete in the 2006 Olympics in Italy, but added that she would take things one day at a time.

Rodriguez commented on the unusual phenomenon of a Hispanic woman from a warm climate excelling in a winter sport, telling Robertson, "Being Cuban, that's icing on the cake. It's even stranger being from Miami. It shows that the United States is all about diversity. We're the biggest melting pot in the world and we have athletes of all different nationalities."

On April 13, 2002, Rodriguez married Boutiette in Miami Beach. She told Justice, "I couldn't ask for anything better than to have my best friend on the ice with me. He and I are on the same wavelength."

Modest about her accomplishments, Rodriguez told Linda Robertson of the Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service that success in sports "all fades away very quickly. You're in the spotlight for five minutes." However, she also said that she wished there were more speedskating rinks around the country, so more young people could be exposed to the sport.



Houston Chronicle, February 20, 2002, p. 4; February 21, 2002, p. 4.

Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, February 6, 2002, p. K2312; February 8, 2002, p. K3101; February 11, 2002, p. K3365; February 16, 2002, p. K3926; February 17, 2002, pp. K4060, K4062; February 20, 2002, pp. K4330, K4355, K4358, K4397.

Sports Illustrated for Kids, January 2, 2002, p. 45.


U.S. Speedskating,

Kelly Winters

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Rodriguez, Jennifer: 1976—: Olympic Speed Skater

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