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Speed skating


TURIN, Italy -- Jennifer Rodriguez's vision was blurry. Her knees buckled. The last two meters were horrible.

It was great.

"I'm proud of myself," she said after placing eighth in the women's 1,500-meter speed skating event last night. "You know what, this possibly could be my last race. I told myself 'Just go out there and enjoy it. There's no pressure on you because you know you're not at the top of your game.' You just want to go out and skate your best. And that's what I did."

Canada's Cindy Klassen (1 minute, 55.27 seconds) edged teammate Kristina Groves by 1.47 seconds for the gold medal. Ireen Wust of the Netherlands was .16 of a second behind Groves at 1:56.90.

Klassen became the first Canadian athlete to win four medals at a Winter Olympics, adding gold to the two silver and one bronze medal she has won at Oval Lingotto. Klassen is also the first Canadian woman with five career Olympic medals (winter or summer).

Rodriguez, who won the 1,500-meter bronze medal at the Salt Lake City Games, finished in 1:59.30.

She was a long shot to medal among a weak group of U.S. skaters in this event, which did not include late scratch Chris Witty. Struggling with an injured hip, Witty scheduled a magnetic resonance imaging test yesterday.

Rodriguez's issues mostly involved head games after failing to medal in her top event, the 1,000 meters Sunday.

She tried to keep it together in two days of training in which she felt slow and beaten up from training the past 12 months, but didn't have the emotional epiphany until Tuesday.

"I didn't have my really good cry until Tuesday," she said. "When I stepped on the ice for practice I was so tired, I just started crying on the ice. I got back to my dorm and had another good cry. ... I told myself to have fun. I was so miserable. This is not what speed skating is all about."

Now 29, Rodriguez remains uncertain if she will persevere for another four years, leading her to Vancouver in 2010. She has intentions of retiring and starting a family with her husband, Olympic team member KC Boutiette, but the baby bug has yet to become a priority.

The immediate focus is for "R&R;" in her hometown of Miami, where she will catch up on her favorite team, the Miami Heat, followed by a late March vacation in Oahu, Hawaii.

After winning two bronze medals in 2002, she still longs for the perfect race at the perfect time. For any American athlete, that would be the Olympic stage.

"I want to be able to skate a race I am proud of in the Olympics," she said. "It's not all about the medals, but I want to know that I can be at the top of my game at the right moment. I don't want to be like this again in four years."

Hours after competing, she was snapping keepsake pictures with her family and friends.

She had a half-eaten chocolate doughnut in her hand.

The big smile buried yesterday's tears.

George Diaz writes for the Orlando Sentinel.

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