No gain not painful for Rodriguez

SALT LAKE CITY -- There were about two and a half laps left when Jennifer Rodriguez realized the 3,000 meters was not going to end as well as it began.

"That's when it really began to hurt," she said.

Of course, seeing as how Rodriguez celebrates the end of almost every race by vomiting, her pain threshold probably is a little different from most of us. So just what does she mean when she says "it really began to hurt?"

"Like you just want to cut your legs off," said Rodriguez, who finished seventh. "Cut your legs off and throw them in the garbage."

Well, that explains why Rodriguez struggled down the stretch Sunday at the Utah Oval. Paired against three-time world champion Anni Friesinger, Rodriguez went to the starting line knowing the German skater would set a blistering pace, which didn't bode well.

"I knew if I was going to have a chance to contend for a medal, I'd have to go out fast and try to stay with her," Rodriguez said. "I went out faster than I normally would and I skated a good race but I just ran out of gas at the end."

While she was on a world-record pace for the first part of the race, Rodriguez gradually tired and steadily fell farther and farther behind the German, finishing almost four seconds behind her in a time of 4:04.99. Neither skater's time was good enough for a medal. Germany's Claudia Pechstein won the gold by breaking her own world record with a time of 3:57.70, Renate Groenewold of the Netherlands was second and Canada's Cindy Klassen third.

The victory finished a nice progression for Pechstein. She won the gold in Lillehammer and the silver in Nagano.

"I think Anni was under a lot of pressure because she won all the World Cup tournaments this season," Pechstein said of her German rival. "My advantage was that I could skate more relaxed because I wasn't under that pressure."

While Rodriguez left without a medal, she did pick up a bit of a cough. But though her seventh-place finish was three lower than she placed in Nagano, Rodriguez said she wasn't disappointed. Her best world finish in the 3,000 in the past year is fifth, and is better in the 1,000 and 1,500 meters, where she is a strong medal candidate.

"The highest we've ever been is fourth," said her coach, Tom Cushman. "It's always been between fourth and eighth, but she comes back the next day and skates very well in the 1,500."

Rodriguez races in the 1,000 next Sunday and the 1,500 the following Wednesday. She also may skate in the 500 this week and the 5,000 the final week.

"I wanted to get the jitters out and I did," she said. "I don't know why everyone thinks I should be really disappointed by the result. Just because I finished fourth last time (in Nagano) doesn't mean I've been focusing on getting a medal this time. I don't think anybody has been paying attention the past four years."

Given the usual attention devoted to speedskating in non-Olympic years, that's a safe bet.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com