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Team USA's Rookard finds measure of gratitude in 10th-place finish in women's 3,000-meter speedskating; Dutch take gold

SOCHI, Russia -- Jilleanne Rookard finished 10th in the women's 3,000-meter speedskating race at the Winter Olympics on Sunday and considered it a victory.

Not just a moral victory but a triumph over the things that had dragged her down one year earlier, when she quit the U.S. team literally while it was boarding a plane for Europe. Burned out mentally and physically and suffering from depression, Rookard wasn't sure if she'd ever skate again.

Not only did she make the U.S. Olympic team after an extended soul-cleansing stay in Norway, but she produced a more-than-respectable performance in the 3,000 at the Adler Arena.

"Of course, I want to be on the podium and kick some butt," Rookard said. "But compared to the last couple years, I can't be upset at all."

Irene Wust of The Netherlands won the race in 4 minutes 0.34 seconds on slow "working ice" and became the first Dutch athlete to win gold at three Olympic Games. She also won the 3,000 in 2006 and the 1,500 in 2010.

Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic, the 2010 Olympic champion in the 3,000, had to settle for silver this time in 4:01.95. Olga Graf took the bronze in 4:03.47, giving host Russia its first medal of these Games.

The 31-year-old Rookard, who lived in West Allis, Wis., and trained at the Pettit National Ice Center for the bulk of her career, finished in 4:10.02. She had told friends she didn't want to be paired with a Russian on her home ice and wound up paired with Graf.

"I went up to (U.S. coach) Kip (Carpenter) and said, 'I'm paired with Olga,'" Rookard said. "And he said, 'That's great! Do you know how awesome it will be out there?' He said, 'It'll be really loud. Just pretend they're cheering for you.'"

Considering Rookard was skating 5 seconds slower last year on the fastest ice in the world in Salt Lake City, she had no complaints.

"Actually, I was pretty pleased," she said. "I knew the ice was going to be pretty slow. I was excited and nervous to be paired with their top Russian girl. I felt really motivated as the race went on. I was having a fun time out there.

"When I was hearing everybody (cheering for Graf) I was like, 'This is what it's supposed to feel like.'"

Rookard said she was past her depression, which she attributed to never taking time to grieve after her mother, Claire Rookard, lost her battle with cancer just before the 2010 Winter Games.

"I'm in a much better place," she said. "I have a more positive mind-set. I've gained a lot of perspective. I'm just happy to be out there."

Anna Ringsred of Duluth, Minn., making her Olympic debut at 29, finished 26th in 4:21.51.

"It was a little bit slower than I expected," she said. "I came around and saw my time and I was kind of surprised. I underestimated the ice a little bit and I went out a little bit too easy. I had to kind of change my plan in the middle and I'm happy with how I finished the race.

"I fought the whole way and I'm at least happy with that."

Ringsred said she was humbled that several members of the U.S. women's hockey team whom she had met in the Athletes' Village came to the race.

"I knew I wasn't a medal contender going into this, but people don't seem to care," she said. "They come out and support you."

After two long-track races, the Netherlands has won four of six possible medals. Sven Kramer led a sweep in the men's 5,000 on Saturday.

Rookard, though, promised that the best was yet to come from U.S. skaters and that the team still would win plenty of long-track medals.

"For sure," she said. "I have no doubt. Based off of how I feel today, I know that others are hopefully going to feel something similar. I think they'll be phenomenal, I really do."

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