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USOC Athletes of the Month: February 2004
Jennifer Rodriguez and Chad Hedrick

The United States Olympic Committee named Jennifer Rodriguez and Chad Hedrick their "Athletes of the Month" for February of 2004 along with the United States Men's Bobsled Team.

by Nikki Dee Corum. USOC Media Services

COLORADO SPRINGS, COLORADO - On March 12, 2004 the United States Olympic Committee named speedskaters Jennifer Rodriguez and Chad Hedrick the February Athletes of the Month. The USOC Team of the Month honor was awarded to the U.S. Menís Bobsled Team.

Jennifer Rodriguez (Park City, Utah) became the 1000-meter World Cup champion for the 2003-04 season on Feb. 29 in Heerenveen, Holland. She also finished second in the 1500-meter World Cup standings. During the month of February, Rodriguez earned six medals. She won both the 500- and 1500-meters and placed fourth overall at the World Allround Championships in Hamar, Norway, Feb. 7-8. Rodriguez also captured gold in the 1000-meters at the World Cup event in Collalbo, Italy, Feb. 14-15, and took silver in the 1000-meters and bronze in the 1500-meters in Inzell, Germany, Feb. 20-22. She wrapped up the month with a silver medal in the 1500-meters at the World Cup Final in Heerenveen, Feb. 27-29.

Chad Hedrick (Spring, Texas) shocked the speedskating world on Feb. 8 when he won the World Allround Championships in Hamar, Norway. The 26-year-old set a world record with a point total of 150.478 over the four distances. Hedrickís win broke the Dutch dominance of the event. He also collected three World Cup medals during the month, winning gold in the 5000-meters and silver in the 1500-meters in Inzell, Germany, Feb. 20-22, and silver in the 5000-meters at the World Cup Final in Heerenveen, Feb. 27-29. His performances gave him third place in the final World Cup standing for combined 5000- and 10,000-meter events.

The U.S. Menís Bobsled Team finished off the World Cup season by winning the bronze medal in the four-man event at the World Championships, preventing a German sweep of the medals. The team started off the month by taking bronze in the four-man race in Cortina, Italy. In Igls, Austria, the team had some trouble in the two-man but came back with a silver-medal performance in the four-man competition. At the World Championships the USA finished seventh in the two-man. Team members included Todd Hays (Del Rio, Texas), Bill Schuffenhauer (Ogden, Utah), Steve Mesler (Buffalo, New York), and Pavle Jovanovic (Toms River, New Jersey).

Diving star Laura Wilkinson (Spring, Texas) was the runner-up in the womenís balloting. As the 2000 Olympic platform gold medalist, Wilkinson left little doubt that she is ready to defend her crown. At the 14th FINA Diving World Cup, Wilkinson won the platform competition with a score of 553.53, nearly 20 points over the second-place diver. She was in eighth place following the preliminary round and moved up to seventh in the semifinals. Wilkinson took control of the competition on the fourth dive in the final round. Her back-three-and-one-half-somersault-tuck (207C) with a 3.3 degree of difficulty was scored for 8.0s and 9.0s. Wilkinson received similar marks for her fifth and final dive, a back-two-and-one-half-somersault, one-and-one-half-twist-pike (5253B) with a 3.4 degree of difficulty.

Third in the womenís voting was gymnast Carly Patterson (Baton Rouge, Louisiana). Patterson swept all four events to defend her all-around title against a tough international field at the 2004 Visa American Cup. She scored 9.575 or better on each apparatus to become the first athlete ever to sweep the competition.

Swimming sensation Michael Phelps (Baltimore, Maryland) placed second in the menís category. It was the only time Phelps finished second in anything in the month. Phelps tied his record for the most U.S. National titles at one meet, winning five at the 2004 ConocoPhillips Spring Nationals in Orlando, Fla., Feb. 10-14. He swam the second-fastest time in history in the 200m back, the third-fastest in the 200m IM and the eighth-fastest in the 100m fly. Phelpsí time in the 200m free makes him the seventh-fastest American all-time in the event. His five titles bring his career total to 20, ranking him first among active American male swimmers.

Wrestler Brandon Paulson (Coon Rapids, Minnesota), who finished third in the menís voting, secured a spot for the U.S. in the 55 kg category at the Olympic Games. Paulson won a gold medal at the Olympic Qualification Tournament for Greco-Roman wrestling, Feb. 28-29, in Novi Sad, Serbia-Montenegro. He won six tough matches to capture the gold medal, the final match over former world champion Ercan Yildiz of Turkey, 1-1, by a refereeís decision.

Tied for second place among Team of the Month candidates were USA Luge and the U.S. Softball Womenís National Team . For just the second time in luge world championship competition, USA Luge raced to a podium finish in the team event. Tony Benshoof (White Bear Lake, Minnesota), Ashley Hayden (Westborough, Massachusetts) and the doubles team of Mark Grimmette (Muskegon, Michigan) and Brian Martin (Palo Alto, California) combined for a best-ever silver-medal finish. Benshoof was third-fastest among the 11-nation menís singles field, while Hayden clocked the third-fastest womenís singles time. Grimmette and Martin were the fastest doubles team.

Beginning its "Aiming for Athens" pre-Olympic tour, the USA Softball Womenís National Team recorded a 10-0 record during the month of February. Team USA dominated its collegiate opponents, outscoring them 106-6 in the first part of the two-part series. They combined for 27 homeruns in 10 games while controlling opposing pitchers with a .419 team batting average. The team averaged 10.6 runs per game and eight of the 10 games ended in mercy rule victories. The U.S. bullpen has combined for a .63 ERA while averaging 2.089 strikeouts per inning. Six of the 10 games have resulted in shutout performances and seven of the 10 opponents have been ranked among the top 25 collegiate teams.

(number of first place votes in parentheses)

1. Jennifer Rodriguez 23 (5)
2. Laura Wilkinson 16 (2)
3. Carly Patterson 13 (3)

Also receiving first-place votes: Crystl Bustos (Softball), Rachel George (Water Skiing), Lindsey Jacobellis (Snowboarding), Lisa Leslie (Basketball), and Jean Racine (Bobsled)

1. Chad Hedrick 29 (7)
2. Michael Phelps 21 (4)
3. Brandon Paulson 10 (2)

Also receiving first-place votes: Todd Hays (Bobsled)

1. U.S. Menís Bobsled Team 24 (5)
2. USA Luge 19 (2)
2. U.S. Softball Womenís National Team 19 (5)

Also receiving first-place votes: U.S. Elite Barefoot Water Ski Team; USA Basketball Womenís Senior National Team

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