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Rodriguez gets out-legged


TURIN, Italy -- Her legs began to tighten on the second lap. That's really when it ended. That's when Jennifer Rodriguez knew it wouldn't be her day and probably her Olympics. That's how it goes in the sport of speed skating.

All those years, all that sacrifice, all the hours spent training on the ice, and it came to something as simple as her legs sending the wrong signal early yesterday evening. Rodriguez had skated a slow first lap in the 1,000-meter race, the clock on the ice underlining what her mind was telling her.

But she figured another gear was there to be found on the second lap. Instead, her legs were tightening. That meant there was no gas left in the tank. There wouldn't be another medal in her case.

"My day wasn't meant to be," the Miami native said. "Sometimes it happens that way. It's been happening all year to me, it seems.

"I'm not angry. I'm disappointed. You always hope to do your best in the Olympics. And this [event] was my best shot."

Rodriguez is ranked third in the world and had won the bronze in Salt Lake City in the 1,000 meters. She had finished in the top three in nine of her previous 10 World Cup races in this event. But when she crossed the finish line she didn't need to see the time of 1 minute, 17.47 seconds to know it was too slow.

She finished 10th. The Netherlands' Marianne Timmer won the race in 1:16.05. Another American, world-record holder Chris Witty, had an equally disappointing race and finished 27th Saturday.

"That's all I had," Witty said. "Once you win a medal, you always want to be medalist and that's why it's disappointing."

Rodriguez felt the same. All this season, she hasn't known until she stepped on the ice how she would feel for a race. She felt good when she came out for warm-ups Saturday. She had a false start before the race, her hand slipping on the ice from its three-point stance.

"That's the first time it ever happened," she said. "That didn't bother me at all, though. I knew it wasn't going to happen again."

The problems began soon after. She couldn't find her speed.

A big Miami Heat fan, Rodriguez had been surprised on Friday with a good-luck video by the team. During an interview with NBC, Rodriguez was shown a tape of Shaquille O'Neal, Alonzo Mourning, Dwyane Wade and Pat Riley extending best wishes for her race.

"We want you to be the very best over there, and let's bring home the gold," Riley said.

She teared up yesterday when reminded of the video.

"I feel bad I let them down," she said. "It just didn't work out."

She wiped her eyes.

"I've just got to let it go," she said. "I've got three days before the 1,500 [race]. I need to get a decent workout in. And I need to forget about this race."

Dave Hyde writes for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

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