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U.S. Speed Skating's J. Ro!
Speed Skater Jennifer Rodriguez talks to Scholastic News Online

Jennifer Rodriguez
Speed Skater Jennifer Rodriguez talks to Scholastic Kid Reporters Kyle Eichleberger and Natalie Honodel at the U.S.O.C. training center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
(Photo: Suzanne Freeman)
Jennifer Rodriguez will compete in three speed skating events at the 2006 Winter Games: the 500 m, the 1000 m and the 1500 m.

She has been skating on ice for 10 years, and before that was a world champion in-line skater. She is originally from Miami, Florida. She moved to Milwaukee when her husband convinced her to change her wheels to blades.

While training at the U.S.O.C. center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, before heading to Torino, Italy, for the games, she sat down to talk to Scholastic News Online.

Q: Of the three races you will compete in, which is the most difficult to train for, and why?
Jennifer: I think the most difficult to train for is the 1,500 meters just because it is the middle distance. You have really good sprinters who can still do a fast 1,500 meters, and then you have people who are really good long distance who may not start out as fast but who have a really fast finish. It's hard to combine the total of being the sprint and distance racer. You have to combine them, so I think that's the hardest race.

Q: What kind of advice would you give an aspiring speed skater?
Jennifer: I would say patience is the biggest advice that I could give. A lot of times, you watch speed skating and it looks very easy and very effortless, but it's a lot of hard work. It's a lot of work on technique, a lot of physical work. I think if they have patience they will get where they need to go.

Q: What challenges have you overcome?
Jennifer: I think injuries are always a challenge. I've been very lucky that I've never had any major injuries. Another one is over-training—when you've pushed your body too far. Both mentally and physically you're just drained, and you have no energy. It takes a lot of patience to just heal yourself and get better.

Q: Was there a skater or other sports figure that you looked up to as a teenager?
Jennifer: I really looked up to Bonnie Blair and Dan Jenson as speed skaters. They were both Olympic medalists and very accomplished speed skaters, and both very great people. I've always looked up to them for their attitudes, both on and off the ice.

Q: What is your favorite Olympic memory?
Jennifer: Well, one that I can actually remember would be Dan Jansen winning the gold medal in 1994, after so many mishaps and unfortunate circumstances. I think another moment that was very exciting was the 1980 hockey game, the "miracle on ice" team.

Q: Speed skating looks dangerous. Do you ever run into people?
Jennifer: I run long track, so it's not as dangerous as the short track, which is quite dangerous.

Q: Do you ever want to look back at the other racers, but you can't?
Jennifer: No, normally when I'm racing I just focus on what I'm doing. I know that there's another person out there, but the only time we could ever have a mishap is if we switch lanes on one of our straight-aways. That's the only time you can have a mishap, and it rarely happens.

Q: With your colleagues, even though you compete against each other, are you friends?
Jennifer: We don't skate against each other—we skate against the clock. You really understand and appreciate how well your colleagues skate, so when they do skate well you get to go congratulate them. And if they beat you, you know that they were better than you on that day. But if you win, you know you were the best, and so you don't really have that animosity that other sports have. So we really are good friends, on and off the ice.

Photos, left to right: © Rick Rickman/NewSport/NewSport/Corbis; © Joe Cavaretta/AP Wide World.