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WINTER OLYMPICS

Netherlands' Ireen Wust wins gold in women's 1,500-meter speedskating

Canada, with the world's top-two skaters, settles for silver and sixth place. The United States' Jen Rodriguez finishes in 18th place.

February 22, 2010|By Brian Hamilton

Reporting from Richmond, Canada — This was Jen Rodriguez's fourth Olympics. She needs surgery on her right hip to repair a torn labrum. The speedskater was so stressed by the laborious Winter Games schedule that she required a 90-minute nap before a 3 p.m. race.

Then, in her preferred race, the 1,500 meters, she produced an 18th-place finish Sunday. It was a stinging anticlimax that empty legs told her she had to accept, leaving her much to contemplate in the coming weeks.

"I don't think I could do better than I did today," Rodriguez said, "even though today was terrible and an embarrassment."

So she can relate to how Canada feels, anyway.

And not just because she skated with one of the host country's racers and heard the bell-ringing, foot-stomping home crowd at full blast in Richmond Olympic Oval. As the U.S had in the men's 1,500-meter race a day earlier, Canada boasted two favorites Sunday, the top two skaters in the world at the distance.

And just as Shani Davis and Chad Hedrick had a day before, Canada's skaters managed just second- and sixth-place finishes. Once again a Dutch skater -- this time Ireen Wust -- seized unexpected gold with a time of 1:56.89.

"I always kind of look at [expectations] and I shrug, because they're meaningless," said Kristina Groves, who took the silver medal with a time of 1:57.14. "You never know what's going to happen. The Olympics is just that crazy thing where the unexpected happens. You saw it yesterday. Ireen did the same today."

Canada's Christine Nesbitt, second in the World Cup rankings, slogged her way to a time of 1:58.33, good for merely sixth. Brittany Schussler, touted as the third piece in a possible podium sweep, broke a skate before the race and finished 35th, 10 seconds off her personal best.

So not a good weekend to be a North American speedskater, not after the U.S. followed its Saturday results with nothing better than Heather Richardson's 16th-place finish on Sunday. But those efforts stung far less than the ones posted by the hosts.

Canada's "Own the Podium" program imbued long-track speedskating with nearly $7.9 million over the last quadrennial, compared with less than $1.1 million leading up to the 2006 Winter Games. Eight long-track events thus far have produced three medals, all by the women.

Groves and Nesbitt were to revive the momentum and wound up offering only qualified contentment. Nesbitt said it "wasn't 100% me out there, but still good." Groves described herself as "feeling good, not feeling incredible."

"I'm satisfied," the silver medalist said, "but deep in my heart I wanted to win that race."

An entire country knows the feeling.

bchamilton@tribune.com

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