By Paul D. Bowker | March 23, 2016, 10:39 a.m. (ET)


She was known as “Miami Ice.”


Jennifer Rodriguez celebrates with her bronze medal in the women's 1,000-meter at the Salt Lake City 2002 Olympic Winter Games at Olympic Medals Plaza on Feb. 18, 2002 in Salt Lake City.

In the years after the television police drama “Miami Vice” became a hit coast to coast, speedskater Jennifer Rodriguez hit the Olympic Winter Games scene in a way that had never been seen by a Cuban-American.

A native of Miami and a world champion inline skater, Rodriguez made her Olympic debut in the Nagano 1998 Olympic Winter Games, finishing fourth in the women’s 3,000-meter race.

Four years later in Salt Lake City, she won Olympic bronze medals in the 1,000- and 1,500-meter races, and finished seventh in the 3,000.

The history books were written. She was the first Cuban-American to compete in the Winter Games and the first to win a winter Olympic medal.

“Winning an Olympic medal — I still feel like that never happened to me,“ Rodriguez said in an interview 12 years later on NBC 6 in Miami. “It still feels like a dream that happened to somebody else.”

Rodriguez would go on to skate in the Torino 2006 Olympic Winter Games and mastered an emotional comeback four years later to compete in four events in the Vancouver Games in 2010 at age 33, following the death of her mother, Barbara.

“Barbara was her biggest fan and they were best friends,” former US Speedskating coach Ryan Shimabukuro told the Sun-Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

An inline skater as a youth and a 12-time world medalist, Rodriguez was among the pioneers who made the transition from inline to the ice skating. She began skating at age 4 at a friend‘s birthday party at a roller rink in Miami. By 1993, at age 17, she had won three world inline championships.


Jennifer Rodriguez competes in the women's 500-meter final at the Torino 2006 Olympic Winter Games on Feb. 14, 2006 in Torino, Italy.

Rodriguez, who was the daughter of a Cuban man who immigrated to the United States in the 1960s and designed the logo for Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami, made the U.S. Olympic Team in 1998 after being on the ice for just a year. She finished among the top 10 in three of her four events in Nagano: fourth in the 3,000, eighth in the 1,500 and 10th in the 5,000.

“J-Rod” followed that with a pair of bronze medals and a seventh-place finish (3,000) in the Salt Lake City Winter Games and a world sprint championship in 2005.

Rodriguez retired following the Torino Games. The retirement ended in 2008 when then-husband KC Boutiette, a fellow Olympian, talked her into hitting the ice at a skating club in Miami. Soon, Rodriguez was back on the ice competitively and aiming for Vancouver.

She skated in four events in her final Olympic Games, finishing seventh in the 1,000 and missing the podium by just one spot in the team pursuit.

The inline to ice track Rodriguez helped blaze has not become common in the United States. At the Sochi Winter Games in 2014, 14 of the 25 long and short track speedskaters who represented Team USA had an inline background.

A 2013 graduate of the University of Miami with an academic award and degree in exercise physiology, Rodriguez is planning for a career in orthopedics.

Paul D. Bowker has been writing about Olympic sports since 1990. He is Olympics editor and Assistant Sports Editor at the Cape Cod Times in Massachusetts. Bowker has written for TeamUSA.org since 2010 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.