Derek Parra had the good fortune of competing in the Olympics on native soil, made all the more emotional because the 2002 Salt Lake Games occurred mere months after 9/11. When Americans were looking for something to cheer for, the speed skater brought home silver in the 5,000-meter during the first day of competition and then won gold in the 1,500-meter. Not bad for the 5-ft.-4 San Bernardino, California, native who gave up his first love of in-line skating to pursue an Olympic dream. Now, he is cultivating a new generation of skaters leading the events side of the Utah Olympic Oval, the very site of his greatest accomplishments.
Describe your Olympic experience.
Because of Sept. 11, there was a different attitude going into the games. The country was getting back on its feet from being crippled. I know my motivation was not so much for the medals, but to give [Americans] something else to think about. I was blown away by the amount of support I received for my silver medal. I remember saying to my agent, Pat Quinn, “I can’t imagine it getting bigger than this because it was so intense.” Ten days later, it got bigger—I won the gold.
What’s your current role?
I am the director of sports of the Utah Olympic Oval. Our speed skating oval is now a multiuse facility. We have youth hockey and adult hockey, curling, figure skating and speed skating.
Based on your position, what’s your take on youth sports?
Once, you could do five sports in high school. Now if you do three sports, you are in the newspaper because there is so much specialization. The more sports you play increases your chances of being a better athlete.
How do you teach Olympic lessons at the Oval?
I started an annual end-of-year bash. We get kids from every sport and have them stay overnight at the Oval. We skate for the public, and then we turn out the lights and do all this fun stuff. The speed skaters do figure-skating routines, and figure skaters judge them on technical ability. The figure skaters play hockey, and the hockey players do other things. It gets kids to cross-pollinate between sports and build great relationships.
Sounds like the Olympic village.
Yeah it is. I was very fortunate to experience the Olympic Village; I wish everybody could. It’s a small snapshot of what our world could be like with countries united in sport. It’s very peaceful.
What aspect of the Olympics would you like to see improved?
Here with the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation, we are one of the exceptions [in] that we are able to use our venues for what they were built for. There is so much money put into the games, but afterward there are a bunch of white elephants. Maybe we should pick five cities and do an Olympic tour where it is more practical and share the Olympic movement. That way those facilities are being used and offer a place for youth in those countries to grow.
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