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Speed skater Jennifer Rodriguez not focusing on Olympic medals

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MIAMI - Jennifer Rodriguez is no longer cast as an Olympic novelty.

The cute Hispanic girl from Miami awed by her first Olympic experience in 1998 has evolved into a savvy woman, content with her place in Olympic history.

Not consumed by chasing medals and stepping onto podiums, Rodriguez plans to truly enjoy the experience when she competes in various speed-skating events in Turin, Italy, during the 2006 Olympic Games in February.

"Regardless of what happens, I just really want to have fun," she said Thursday shortly after a short media-driven workout with her husband, KC Boutiette, at a Coconut Grove health club. "I'm not so worried about gold, silver or bronze.

"I'm more worried about coming across the finish line knowing that it was the best race I could have possibly skated. If that happens, the results are going to be really good."

Having already qualified for the Olympic 500, 1,000 and 1,500 meters, Rodriguez can focus on technique and training, tapering off at the precise time to avoid peaking too early.

She recently took bronze in the 1,000, and finished fifth in the 1,500 and 10th and 11th in two 500s during World Cup competition in Turin, more concerned about the journey ahead than short-term gratification.

She suspects that some opponents might have been overly consumed with world records. Not Rodriguez.

At 29, Rodriguez has secured her Olympic legacy by becoming the first Hispanic-American to compete in the Winter Olympics. The daughter of a Cuban immigrant who married an American woman, Rodriguez finished fourth in the 3,000 meters (and only hundredths of a second away from an Olympic podium position) in Nagano, Japan.

It was a tremendous spike for a young woman who a year earlier had finished 41st in the overall World Cup standings.

Four years later, she scored a couple of bronze medals in the 1,000 and 1,500 meters in Salt Lake City after becoming the first American woman in history to earn a spot in all five events.

Since she married Boutiette - the man who influenced her decision to make the transition from in-line skating to the ice - Rodriguez has come to embrace a more worldly perspective on what truly matters.

Her mother continues an ongoing fight against breast cancer, although she is expected to travel to Torino. A more pleasant focus is starting her own family, which may push her into retirement shortly after the Olympics.

"If I decide to go another four years, I can hold out," she said, "but I have the baby fever."


(c) 2005, The Orlando Sentinel (Fla.). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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