Derek Parra: 9/11 inspired his 2002 medal haul in Salt Lake City

The following is an article posted on by USA TODAY:

Sept. 11 initially blunted long-track speedskater Derek Parra’s Olympic aspirations.

“I was like, ‘Why am I skating around in circles when people are pulling loved ones out of the rubble at Ground Zero?’ ” he says.

“I felt useless. It was like, ‘Why am I doing this — it’s selfish.’ I contemplated not continuing to skate. It was the first time in my life I can remember being sad and depressed.”

Yet in the end, he says, Sept. 11 helped inspire him to become the first Mexican-American to win Winter Olympic gold in the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City.

Sept. 11, 2001, Parra was preparing for the Games, living and training in Utah and working part time at The Home Depot.

When he told co-workers of his thoughts about quitting, he says, “They were the ones that were getting behind me, saying, ‘You’ve got to do this; you’ve got to show these people they can’t take that away from us. Go out there and win the gold, do your best.’

“That’s when my focus leading into those Games became not about medals. It was about giving the families of the victims from 9/11, especially in our country, something to cheer about.”

He was scheduled to skate in the grueling 5,000-meter race on the first full day of competition. But when the invitation came to be one of eight U.S. athletes to carry the World Trade Center flag into the opening ceremony the night before, he accepted instead of resting.

The International Olympic Committee at first resisted the plan to include the tattered flag in the opening ceremony, not wanting to promote political or nationalistic displays. But after an outcry, the IOC agreed to have the flag — which also had been displayed at the World Series and Super Bowl— brought in as the U.S. national anthem was playing.

“That definitely inspired me. It touched me spiritually and emotionally,” Parra says.

The next day, he set a world record in the 5,000 meters — 15 seconds better than his personal best — en route to winning a surprise silver. Ten days later, he won 1,500-meter gold, setting an Olympic record.

The patriotism roused by Sept. 11, he says, helped propel him and the U.S. team overall to a record performance in 2002. U.S. athletes won 34 medals in Salt Lake City, nearly tripling the USA’s previous Winter Olympic best (13 medals in the 1998 and 1994 Games).

“There was something that was driving us,” he says. “Everybody was out there with us. We weren’t alone is why I think we had such a great Games.”

Learning of Osama bin Laden’s death Sunday brought Parra, a U.S. speedskating coach in 2010 and the youth outreach director for the Utah Athletic Foundation, memories from the 2002 Games and a sense of contentment.

“I think the world is a better place without someone like that in it,” he says.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: