Reporting from Richmond, Canada — There is no medal. But there is a certificate. That much Jennifer Rodriguez earned after a top-eight finish in the women's 1,000-meter speedskating event Thursday -- a trophy with print, not glint.
So there is a congratulatory certificate. There is optimism about Rodriguez's 1,500-meter race Sunday. There is a growing hope for the next Olympic cycle. But there are no medals. So there is a lot of relative thinking regarding the U.S. women's speedskating team's performance in these Winter Games.
"After Torino, a bunch of the top girls retired. Everyone was like, 'Oh my gosh, there's no one to really replace us,' " Rodriguez said. "But I'm not worried about that anymore. There are plenty of girls to fill the gap over the next four years."
Rodriguez, returning for her fourth Olympics after she was one of those early retirees in 2006, placed seventh Thursday in 1 minute, 17.08 seconds, a time that was in the top three until the third-to-last pair. Teammate Heather Richardson, 19, recorded her second top-10 finish of the week with a time of 1:17.37 that was good for ninth.
Again, the hardware is what catches eyes, especially when it's worn by Canada's Christine Nesbitt after a 1,000-meter victory that surely will result in a 1,000-day exaltation. But for better or worse, the U.S. team's perspective is necessarily different, as epitomized by Rodriguez's satisfaction.
"A top-10 finish, a top-eight finish for me, where I came from, I can't really expect much more," Rodriguez said. "It would have been like a dream race to be on the podium. I knew it was a long shot for me to medal -- but a top-eight finish, I really am very happy."
Likewise, Richardson, who burst to the second-fastest first-lap time (27.96) but ran on fumes from there, needing a couple left-hand touches on the final turn to maintain her balance. She nevertheless declared her run "awesome."
"I gave it everything I had, so everything I had was left out on the ice, and that's what happens sometimes," Richardson said. "My legs just felt like they were on fire, just really heavy. You're just trying to keep your tempo up, and I tripped up a little bit."
Whether amassing top-10 finishes and eyeing the future is enough probably comes down to personal perspective. The U.S. women seem to think it is what it is, and they are pleased that it could be more in another four years.
"People definitely focus too much on the medals," said Elli Ochowicz, who was disappointed with her 26th-place finish Thursday. "Sometimes you're not good during the Olympics. But that doesn't mean your team isn't progressing.
"Heather had an amazing weekend. Jen pulled out a great 1,000 today, and I know she's going to do a good 1,500. You can't look at the medals to determine whether a team is getting stronger or not."