In 1992 when KC Boutiette, then a scruffy 22-year-old in-line
skater, met Jennifer Rodriguez, a 16-year-old artistic roller
queen, you could hardly have imagined a more unlikely pair to
become the first couple of speed skating. Neither had even seen
an ice oval, and neither had any desire to see the other again.
Ever. "He was so gross," Rodriguez recalls. "He pretended to
limp, like in those old monster movies. His hair--ew, so dorky.
You know how some girls dream, 'Oh, I want to be with that guy?'
Never KC. Uh-uh. Nope. Not a chance. Eeesh, not at all."
Today the couple has four U.S. Allround titles, eight national
records and three Olympic berths between them. Their wedding is
set for April 2002, two months after the Salt Lake City Games.
Each has the Olympic rings tattooed on an ankle, and she has
warmed to his blond-streaked 'do. They began dating in 1996,
after Rodriguez realized Boutiette was actually a pleasant if
kooky guy who always made her laugh.
By his own account Boutiette pretty much overslept his way
through high school in Tacoma, Wash., while he skated in-line for
fun and worked the night shift, sometimes until 2 a.m. washing
UPS trucks for $100 a week. In November '93, on a
spur-of-the-moment quest for a new challenge, he took a 30-hour
bus ride to Milwaukee, the home of the Pettit National Ice
Center, one of speed skating's most prominent venues and the site
of next week's world championships. With no ice skates and no
ride, he in-lined five miles from a friend's house to the oval,
rented blades he screwed onto his roaring green in-line boots and
skated out of a three-point football start. While others avoided
Boutiette like rutted ice, iconoclastic coach Bob Fenn, who
admitted he "didn't know KC Boutiette from KC and the Sunshine
Band," welcomed this fellow rebel and fitted him with off-center
blades to compensate for his awkward stride. Six weeks later
Boutiette made his first Olympic team and placed 39th in the
1,500 meters at Lillehammer. In '98 he won no medals but broke
U.S. records in three events (the 1,500, 5,000 and 10,000) at the
Nagano Games. He has also competed in downhill skating at the
X-Games and won the 100-kilometer world in-line championship in
New York City's Central Park.
The Miami-born Rodriguez was a 12-time world medalist in artistic
and speed roller skating events when Boutiette persuaded her to
join him in Milwaukee in 1996 and coaxed her onto the ice. The
transition was hardly smooth skating. "I went home [from
practice] every day crying," says Rodriguez, whose father
emigrated from Cuba. Within months, however, she was racing in
Italy, where, she says, "I beat [only] the people who fell." In
'98, after becoming the first Hispanic American to make a U.S.
Winter Olympic team, she placed fourth in the 3,000 in Nagano.
Next week Rodriguez and Boutiette will skate in Milwaukee, where
they have a shot at their first medals in a world championships.
In the meantime, watching the pair holding hands between
effortless training laps these days, it's hard to believe their
relationship was once on thin ice and their skating careers