Miami Skater Jennifer Rodriguez Passes the Olympic Torch

For the first time in 16 years, skating medal winner Jennifer Rodriguez will not be an Olympian.

Her skates are in storage. Her medals are secured safely. 

For the first time in 16 years, Jennifer Rodriguez will not be an Olympian.

After trips to Nagano, Salt Lake City, Torino and Vancouver, the skater known as J-Rod is now in unfamiliar territory for the Winter Games in Sochi.  She’s a spectator.

"I’m not going to lie, I’m missing it,” Rodriguez admitted in a recent interview with NBC 6 South Florida. "It’s a little bit bittersweet."

Now 37, Rodriguez burst onto the Olympic scene in 1998, an American speedskater in Japan tagged with the nickname "Miami Ice." She captured the heart of the community four years later in Utah when she skated to two bronze medals – moments that still haven’t sunk in.

"Winning an Olympic medal – I still feel like that never happened to me," she said. "It still feels like a dream that happened to somebody else."

Twelve years after standing on the podium of the world’s biggest stage, the moment is still surreal.

"I have my medals tucked away and I pulled them out the other day just to look at them. It doesn’t feel real, but you think, 'wow, I am an Olympic medalist and, yeah, I did do something pretty cool in the sport I loved,'" she said.

The sport she loved is a sport that’s ruled almost her entire life. J-Rod started on inline skates when she was 5 and was a world champion at 17. Three years after that, she graduated to the ice, becoming an Olympian in just two years.

While Salt Lake was her crowning moment, the 2006 Winter Games in Torino was her rock bottom. 

“That was my bomb of a Games.  I was really disappointed – so disappointed it made me quit for a couple of years.”

The skating bug wasn’t completely out of her system. Rodriguez chased a medal one last time in Vancouver in 2010 before hanging up her skates for good.

"It’s a huge adjustment. My life was dedicated to sports – one thing, one focus, one goal," she said. "Then, all of a sudden, it’s done. You have to start all over."

J-Rod’s restart includes a degree from the University of Miami with graduate school on the horizon in May. Her time on the ice is done for now, but she hasn’t ruled out a return – as a coach.

That doesn’t mean watching the Sochi Olympics will be easy.

"I miss my team. I miss the camaraderie. I miss the atmosphere. I miss training. I miss joking around and acting like an idiot, talking smack," she said.

Rodriguez will watch. She has a vested interest. She’ll be watching a fellow Miamian, a fellow Cuban, a fellow skater.

Eddy Alvarez, from Christopher Columbus High School, will race for Team USA in short track speed skating. Like Rodriguez, he started as an inline skater sharing the same coach, Bob Manning.

"I knew Eddy growing up, he was a little peapod. He was right on my tail," Rodriguez said. "I’m very, very excited for him and I think, from what I’ve been seeing, he has a really good shot for medals."

Rodriguez will also have an eye on another South Florida product.  Brittany Bowe graduated from Florida Atlantic University in Boca and is also making the trip to Sochi. She qualified in three events in long track speed skating and is a world record holder in the 1000M.
Bowe will try to become the first American woman to earn a speedskating medal since Rodriguez in 2002.

“She’s just been flying up the ranks. I’m glad I don’t have to race her," Rodriguez joked. "I have huge expectations for her and I think she’s going to be phenomenal."

It’s the first Olympic appearance for both Alvarez and Bowe, and the four-time veteran offers this advice, perhaps getting a jump start on that coaching career.

"Don’t think about the end result, think about the process," she said.

Now J-Rod’s process involves carving out a new path. But that doesn’t mean she can’t look back at the old one now and then.

“I had a very successful career, ups, downs, twists and everything in between. It makes you better as a person,” she said. "I have no regrets."

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