Derek Parra, 2002 Gold and Silver Olympic Medalist, Joins the UAF Team

The Utah Athletic Foundation announced Wednesday, July 21, 2010 that Derek Parra, 2002 Gold and Silver Olympic Medalist in speed skating will be joining Utah’s Olympic Legacy Foundation as its new Outreach Director for Youth Sports Programs. Parra will play a vital community role in helping Utah’s youth connect with winter sports programs offered at Utah Olympic Oval and Utah Olympic Park. He will also oversee the Utah Olympic Oval’s speed skating programs, ensuring a dynamic series of age-appropriate athlete development programs on the “World’s Fastest Ice!”

Parra has assisted in the development of the organizations Olympic legacy efforts and goals while serving as a Board member of the Utah Athletic Foundation since 2007. And, as a member of the organization’s Sports Development Committee, he contributed his knowledge as an athlete and a coach. Parra said, “As a board member for the past three years, I have been fortunate to witness the Utah Athletic Foundation’s passion and commitment for youth sports in Utah. I am excited about this opportunity because it blends kids, sports and Utah, all of which I love. I am looking forward to working with kids and helping them in the process of not only being a champion in sport, but a champion in life”.

As one of the finest speed skating coaches in the world, Parra will bring a level of expertise to the beginner level programs never seen before in the United States. He will also use his unique expertise and community minded perspectives to further encourage Utah’s youth to engage in winter sport and physical activity.

Colin Hilton, Utah Athletic Foundation CEO, said, “Our Olympic legacy organization is very fortunate to have such a talented and respected individual lend his efforts towards the development of our young athletes. We look forward to growing our youth speed skating programs and expanding participation in all our unique winter sport program offerings. Derek is a perfect fit to help us spread the message about Utah’s Living Olympic Legacy and our efforts to promote winter sports in the State of Utah.”

Marc Norman, Utah Olympic Oval’s Director added that “Having one of the nations best coaches focus his efforts on our youth speed skating programs is very exciting. Derek will be involved in the day to day coaching and mentoring of beginner level participants bringing his skills to those he can impact most. This unique opportunity to work with a Gold Medal Olympian is not offered anywhere else in the United States. Parra will add a unique twist to coaching the youth of Utah, ensuring that their sport experiences are rewarding and fulfilling. His creative and innovative coaching techniques focus on kids having fun while promoting active and healthy lifestyles”.

Parra’s athletic successes include the 2002 Olympic Gold Medal in 1500 meters setting a new World Record and the 2002 Olympic Silver Medal in the 5000 meters setting a new American Record. His years of training and his coaching with the US Speed Skating team contribute to a wealth of experience and knowledge that he will bring to the Utah Athletic Foundation; not only in speed skating, but in overall sport and athlete development.

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2002: Bakken, Flowers break drought, and a landmark

The following is an excerpt from an article published at ESPN.com on February 19, 2002:

No one had really given Jill Bakken and Vonetta Flowers a chance. They weren’t even supposed to be the best U.S. team.

“A lot of people saw us as the ‘other’ team,” Flowers said. “We came here to prove people wrong.”

That they did, winning the inaugural women’s bobsled Tuesday night by beating the favored Germans and the much-hyped Jean Racine in the other American sled.

The victory by USA-2 ended a 46-year drought for the United States. America had not won an Olympic bobsled medal since Arthur Tyler took the four-man bronze in 1956 and had not won gold since his brother, Francis, won the four-man in 1948.

There was also an Olympic landmark: The 28-year-old Flowers became the first African-American ever to win a gold medal at a Winter Games.

“Hopefully, this will encourage other African-American boys and girls to give winter sports a try because you don’t see too many of them out there,” she said.

The former college track star once had other Olympic dreams, but two knee operations and ankle surgery dashed those hopes.

“I have truly been blessed to come into this sport and pick it up so fast,” said Flowers said, unable to stop crying. “My goal was to make the Summer Olympics. God had a different plan for me.”

Sandra Prokoff and Ulrike Holzner won the silver in Germany-1 while compatriots Susi Erdmann and Nicole Herschmann took the bronze. Racine and Gea Johnson finished fifth.

“I think I’m going to be looking back at this for a long time,” Racine said.

In December, Bakken and Racine faced the same quandary: Both needed a new brakewoman to push their sleds.

Racine dumped her best friend and chose Johnson, a muscular former heptathlete from Arizona; Bakken took Flowers, who once ran track at UAB and didn’t try bobsledding until after she failed to qualify for the U.S. team headed for the 2000 Summer Olympics.

“I don’t even know what to feel,” Bakken said. “It’s amazing.”

Even more amazing were the 11th-hour antics of Racine after Johnson injured her left hamstring Saturday night. After the race, Racine said she had asked Flowers over the weekend to consider changing sleds. Flowers declined.

The race was gripping from the start. Dressed in matching bodysuits, Bakken and Flowers stood behind their bright red bobsled ready to begin their push to history.

They seemed to forget the two German teams had won every World Cup race in the 2001-02 season. Standing in the start house, they stared through the visors of their black helmets and pounded each other’s fists.

They flew down the track twice at 80 mph, winning with a two-run time of 1 minute, 37.76 seconds. Prokoff and Holzner were second in 1:38.06, with Erdmann and Herschmann at 1:38.29.

Racine and Johnson were timed in 1:38.73. Johnson was in severe pain and crying as she hobbled off the track.

“America was on the podium today, and that was the goal,” a tearful Racine said. “We didn’t win, but America did.”

Racine had been picked as America’s hope, but arrived at the Olympics in disarray. After dominating the World Cup tour for two years with best friend Jen Davidson, she suddenly was unable to win.

She created a stir by replacing Davidson with Johnson, who once served a four-year suspension after testing positive for anabolic steroids. Davidson protested but withdrew her complaint in January shortly after the start of an arbitration hearing. Their friendship, however, was over.

The decision to switch teammates — common among the men — was prompted by the success of the German teams, both featuring big drivers.

Prokoff and Holzner broke the track push record on their first run with a time of 5.32 seconds. Undaunted, Flowers helped propel USA-2 to a 5.31 start record.

That gave the Americans an edge, and Bakken, who lives in Park City, showed her savvy on a track on which she has made hundreds of runs.

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2002: Gold Rush

The following is an excerpt from an article published in Sports Illustrated on March 4, 2002:

Every one kept looking for someone to blame. The Russians offered conspiracy theories involving the NHL and corporate interests; the South Koreans offered up accusations of incompetent judging; the Canadians first painted themselves the victims of vote-swapping and then, as the hockey tournament wound to a close, offered up the novel idea that the world hates Canadians. Boycotts were threatened, temperatures rose, yet apart from all the fiery complaints lay the not-so-subtle subtext of the 2002 Winter Olympics: The U.S. won medal after surprise medal in Salt Lake City—10 gold and 34 overall, more winter medals than it had won before (13 in 1994 and ’98), in fact—and made the rest of the world look bad. Who’s responsible?

So many, it seems, had a hand in it. Blame New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who chaired the U.S. Olympic Committee commission that in 1989 recommended a massive infusion of money and support for various winter sports, and the USOC, which adopted that recommendation, provided millions over the following decade plus $40 million over the last four years just in preparation for the Salt Lake City Games. Blame the International Olympic Committee, which, in its quest to skew younger and more female, admitted America-friendly sports like aerial skiing in ’94 and snowboarding and women’s hockey in ’98. Blame U.S. winter sports federations, which hired superior coaches from overseas and recruited a rainbow coalition of talented athletes from summer sports and Sun Belt states.

Blame winter sports boosters like former U.S. Olympic luger Bonny Warner, who not only pushed to get skeleton and women’s bobsled admitted to this year’s Games—events that yielded three gold and one silver medal for America—but also lured Alabama native Vonetta Flowers from the running track to the bobsled run and trained her. In Salt Lake City, Flowers, the brakeman for driver Jill Bakken, became the first African-American to win Winter Olympic gold. “My goal was to make the Summer Olympics,” said Flowers, 28, a former long jumper and sprinter, “but God had a different plan for me.”

A different plan is exactly what the USOC needed to turn the U.S. into a Winter Games powerhouse. After American athletes won a paltry six medals at the 1988 Olympics—causing Steinbrenner, a former USOC vice president, to erupt at the team’s futility—U.S. Olympic officials realized that they had to discard conventional wisdom and their reliance on the limited talent pool found in the northern and mountain states. They started thinking and looking outside the box. Flowers, who responded to a bobsled flyer at the 2000 U.S. track and field trials in Sacramento, wasn’t the only Southerner competing in the bobsled in Salt Lake City. Todd Hays, a Texas-born former linebacker for Tulsa, came to the sport after his brother saw a recruiting ad on TV. He drove his four-man sled to a silver medal last week, ending a 46-year U.S. medal drought in men’s races. In the sled with him was brake-man Garrett Hines, an African-American former Southern Illinois tailback raised in Tennessee.

Indeed, the fortnight in Salt Lake City revealed that the Winter Olympics had undergone a face-lift—one that not only removed wrinkles but also added some much needed color. Speed skaters Derek Parra of San Bernardino, Calif., and Jennifer Rodriguez of Miami became the first Mexican-American and Cuban-American, respectively, to win a medal at a Winter Games, and Apolo Ohno’s gold and silver medals in short-track speed skating made him the most decorated Japanese-American Winter Olympian.

Athletes benefited from the USOC’s 20-year-old jobs program, under which Olympic sponsor Home Depot has employed 280 Summer and Winter Games prospects at stores across the country. ( Allstate, Anheuser-Busch and other companies have participated in the program.) Parra worked 20 hours a week in the flooring department at a Home Depot in West Valley City, Utah. His hours were flexible, he received full benefits, and he was paid as if he worked 40 hours. “I got Employee of the Month three times,” he says. “I enjoyed working. It helped me to get away from skating.” All told, the jobs program helped support 14 U.S. athletes who competed in Salt Lake City, including bobsledder Hines, women’s skeleton winner Tristan Gale and three other medalists.

The USOC saw in the sledding events a unique opportunity to boost the American medal count. In January 1999,10 months before skeleton and women’s bobsled were admitted to the Games, the committee gambled that those would be included at Salt Lake City and poured more than $250,000 of support into them. “That one year made the difference,” says Warner, a member of the Athletes’ Advisory Council. “The Germans [a traditional power in sledding events] were caught off-guard. Their federation didn’t fund their women’s bobsled program until 2001, and it was the same for skeleton. We got a huge jump.” Meanwhile, thanks to sponsor money and funds put out by NASCAR driver Geoff Bodine, the U.S. men’s bobsledders took to the track in their fastest sleds ever, designed by Chassis Dynamics in collaboration with Bodine. Perhaps equally important, the U.S. sledding base of operations was shifted from Lake Placid, N.Y., to the new run in Park City. Training was geared not to the European schedule of competition, but to only this run, these 17 days.

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The Evolution of Bobsled

The Evolution of Bobsled is a photo gallery that can be viewed at TeamUSA.org. Below are 5 of the 30 photos on display:

Click here to view all 30 photos.

Park City brings Games back home: Local Olympians and Paralympians parade down Main

The following is an excerpt from an article published at ParkRecord.com:

On a bleak Tuesday afternoon with frosty winds whipping through Main Street, Park City residents showed where their priorities lie by lining the streets at a parade for Utah’s 2010 Olympic and Paralympic athletes.

“It’s always great to see the community out to honor the Olympians, because I just remember the 2002 Olympics, and being with this group again brings back memories,” said Park City resident Lola Beatlebrox.

“The last time it was like this was July 4th,” she said.

Beginning as advertised at 5:30 p.m. sharp, local junior athletes trod behind a convoy of international stars while viewers took part in the traditional parade fare – waving, screaming and snapping photos.

There were no floats, as athletes rode in a cavalcade of SUVs and pickup trucks. 2010 World Cup super G title winner Ted Ligety led off and quickly heeded one photographer’s cry to “Start waving!”

Paralympic sled hockey gold medalist Greg Shaw joined fellow Park City resident and Closing Ceremony flag-bearer Monte Meier in an SUV adorned with posters and paint, while recently retired bronze medalist Shannon Bahrke shared a truck bed with Heather McPhie, bronze medalist Bryon Wilson and Nate Roberts.

“It was a nice surprise,” said New York’s Bob Ingersoll, a winter sports fan on vacation in Park City. “Ted Ligety and Shannon Bahrke – that made my day. I watched those guys during the Olympics.”

Nordic combined medalists Brett Camerota and Billy Demong nearly tumbled on top of each other as their truck
accelerated quickly at the top of Main Street, giving their audience a laugh.

Camerota was on a post-Olympic vacation in Thailand when he found out about the parade and rushed home.

“I really wanted to get away a little bit, but once I found out about the parade in Park City, I definitely made sure I made it back,” Camerota said. “These programs are pretty much the reason I have a medal, so I wanted to show all the kids
that these programs are a lot of fun and they actually do work.”

Aerialists Lacey Schnoor and Jeret “Speedy” Peterson, and speedskaters Travis Jayner, Rebeckah Bradford, Tucker Fredericks and Catherine Raney Norman were also among the 24 athletes on hand.

The School of Rock Show Band played while athletes signed autographs for hoards of fans young and old alike at the Town Lift Plaza.

“We have a lot of pride,” said City Manager Tom Bakaly at a Park City Rotary Club meeting on Tuesday afternoon before the parade. “We love being able to pull together, especially with the ski team taking the lead (in medals).”

Bakaly said Park City’s variety of elite training facilities – like the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association’s Center of Excellence – not only benefit Utah’s medal count, but local businesses.

“Every time Park City gets mentioned, that’s good on a lot of levels,” Bakaly said. “But on an economic level, it’s very important to us.”

Billy Demong, who first moved to Park City to train with his teammates and is originally from Vermontville, N.Y., said the work done by the city has made it feel like home.

“The town has really grown on me over the years,” Demong said. “At the beginning, it was a means to an end, but it’s been really cool to watch the community develop.”

Click here to read the entire article.

Something in the water in Utah breeds great Olympic athletes

10 interesting facts you may not know about the Miracle on Ice

The following is an excerpt from an article published at SI.com:

10. The game was not broadcast live. Well, that’s not exactly right… it was broadcast live on Canadian TV, so a few people up near the border saw it live. But most of the country — almost all of the country, really — saw it on tape delay, in prime time. The game had ended less than an hour before it was broadcast.

9. There was one celebrity in the crowd — or at least only one celebrity that the ABC cameras showed. That was: Jamie Farr. (For those too young to remember, he played Klinger on M*A*S*H.) “Jamie Farr was definitely the biggest celebrity I saw in the crowd,” Michaels says. The interesting thing is that the ABC cameras focused on Farr for a good 10-20 seconds, but never said who he was or why the cameras were locked in on him. He was that famous.

8. You may know that Michaels called the game with former Montreal Canadiens goalie Ken Dryden. You may not know that the day before the game — the day before — Dryden has a car service drive him up to Toronto where he took the Canadian bar exam. And he passed. Yeah that’s right. Ken Dryden passed the bar one day before the Miracle on Ice.

7. Michaels got the job as broadcaster of Olympic hockey because he was the only announcer in the ABC rotation who had ever called a hockey game. The interesting thing: He had called exactly one game. And that one game was the 1972 hockey game between the USSR and Czechoslovakia in Sapporo, Japan. He actually was working for NBC at the time. The Soviets won 5-2 and won gold. And the only reason Michaels called THAT game is because he grew up a hockey fan, and nobody else wanted to do it.

6. Eric Heiden won five gold medals at the 1980 Olympics* (and later became a doctor, and is now team physician for the U.S. speed skating team). But even as the biggest star of the Games, he could not get a ticket for the U.S.-Soviet hockey game. So ABC had him sit behind Michaels and Dryden on a little platform. He could not see very well, but he was in the building, which apparently is all he wanted. And Michaels has this classic image after the U.S. won the game of turning around and seeing the joy on Eric Heiden’s face.

5. The U.S., famously, got a cheap goal with one second left in the first period, when the legendary Vladislav Tretiak gave up a terrible rebound and U.S. center Mark Johnson jammed home the puck. That goal did more than just tie the game 2-2. It so enraged Soviet coach Viktor Tikhonov that he immediately pulled Tretiak. And when he pulled Tretiak, it had a huge impact on the U.S. hopes. “We were in awe of Tretiak,” U.S. captain Mike Eruzione said.

4. Ken Morrow was the glue for the 1980 team… a stay-at-home defenseman who cleared the puck and steadied the ship and so on. You know that as soon as he and the 1980 Olympic team won gold, Morrow went to play for the New York Islanders. And… the Islanders won Stanley Cup. In fact, the Islanders won the next four Stanley Cups. I’ve gotten to know Morrow just a little bit — he lives in Kansas City — and he is one of the great guys in the world. He will talk about what a charmed life he has led.

3. The memory, of course, is of the U.S. crowd going absolutely crazy. You will hear people say that was one of the loudest buildings in the history of American sports. And, at the end, it definitively was loud. But the truth is that for most of the game the crowd was actually quite quiet. In fact, there’s a moment in the third period where Michaels says: “Now, finally, the crowd comes alive.”

2. Michaels says that if he had thought up his famous line earlier — “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” — he never would have said it. The thing you have to understand about Michaels is that he’s a pro’s pro. Get the names right. Get the action right. Never jump the gun. Never say what you don’t know. That’s his blueprint. That’s his life. And Michaels believes that if he had thought up the line earlier, he would have discarded it because in his head it would sound jingoistic or corny or both.

1. This is in the Michaels-Costas story, but it’s worth repeating here… Michaels did not just leave after the game was over. He called the Finland-Sweden hockey game. So while he, of course, understood just how big the U.S. victory had been, he was unaware of the nation’s reaction, unaware of the way Americans had poured into the streets of Lake Placid. When he left the game, he saw all the people celebrating, all the waving flags, and he made it back to the hotel, and someone said to him: “Wow, that was incredible what you said.” And for a second Michaels thought, “What did I say?”

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The Godfather of Extreme Skiing

The following is an excerpt from an article published at www.smithsonianmag.com:

On the afternoon of May 6, 1970, Yuichiro Miura stood on Mount Everest’s South Col, at an altitude of more than 26,000 feet. On his lips he wore white sun block, and on his head a fighter pilot’s helmet, complete with a transceiver. He also had oxygen tanks, and a parachute was strapped to his back, though no one knew if the parachute would work at that altitude. On his feet he wore skis.

Breathing quickly and deeply, Miura reached a state of Mu, a Zen-like feeling of nothingness.

Then he took off.

Miura had a reputation in skiing circles before he ever set foot on Everest. The son of the legendary Keizo Miura, who pioneered skiing in Japan’s Hakkōda Mountains, he set a world speed skiing record of 172.084 kilometers per hour (nearly 107 miles per hour) in 1964. “It was a wonderful feeling that I was able to set the record,” Miura says, “but I knew the record was meant to be broken.”

Broken it was, the very next day. Miura never reclaimed it, but instead made a name for himself by skiing the world’s most spectacular summits, starting with Japan’s Mount Fuji in April 1966. He wanted to schuss down Fuji as fast as possible, but he also wanted to live. So Miura decided to deploy a parachute when he reached his maximum velocity, on the theory that it would allow him to slow down to safety. His innovation worked … at about 93 miles per hour. He became the first person to ski that mountain.

Miura also skied Mount Kosciusko, the highest peak in Australia, later that year, and Mount McKinley, the highest peak in North America, in 1967. The next year, he became the first person to ski Mexico’s Mount Popocatépetl, and in 1969, he added Chile’s Towers of Paine to his list of firsts. “It seems to me that greater than the satisfaction of winning in competition,” Miura later wrote of his decision to pursue big mountain riding, “is the joy of forgetting yourself and becoming one with the mountains.”

After Miura’s feat on Fuji, New Zealand’s Tourism Bureau invited him to ski the Tasman Glacier. While in New Zealand, he met Sir Edmund Hillary, the climber who teamed with Tenzing Norgay to conquer Mount Everest’s summit in 1953. “Sir Edmund Hillary was my superhero,” Miura says. “When I listened to his Everest summit, I determined my target to be Everest, too.” After the shock of someone contemplating skiing Everest wore off, Hillary actually encouraged him. “He inspired me to be an extreme skier who can make history,” Miura says.

The Nepalese government turned out to be receptive to the idea, too. But there was a catch—Miura would be allowed to ski not Everest’s summit, but the South Col. The col is the slightly lower pass connecting Everest and Lhotse, the world’s fourth-tallest mountain, but still, it slopes at 40 to 45 degrees. “My objective was clear, that was to ski down Everest,” he says. “I did not really care about the summit at that time.”

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Olympic Facts

The following information comes from TeamUSA.org:

Olympic Rings:

Pierre de Coubertin, the father of the modern Olympic Games, designed the Olympic Rings as a symbol to encourage world unity. The five rings represent the five continents, however the colours do not correspond to specific continents. The rings are interlaced to show the universtiy of Olympism and the meeting of the athletes of the world during the Olympic Games.

Coubertin first presented the rings in a flag in June 1914 in Paris at the Olympic Congress. Due to the First World War, the flag and its five rings were not displayed in an Olympic stadium until 1920 in Antwerp, Belgium.

Medals:

The medals – gold, silver, and bronze – represent the highest levels of athletic achievement at the Games. The design of the medal varies with each Olympic Games and they are the responsibility of the host city’s organizing committee. Olympic medals must be at least 60 millimeters in diameter and at least three millimeters thick. Gold and silver medals must be made of 92.5 percent pure silver; the gold medal must be gilded with at least six grams of gold.

Torch & Flame:

One of the most enduring symbols of the Olympic Games is the Olympic flame. The flame made its first appearance at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games and since then the lighting of the flame has become a major focal point of every Opening Ceremonies. The concept of lighting a flame for the duration of the Games comes from the ancient Greeks, who used a flame lit by the sun’s rays at Olympia – the site of the original Olympic Games.

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Olympic Torch Relay Continues Across Canada

Check out the highlights of the Olympic Torch Relay from last week:

Top court refuses to hear case of female ski jumpers who want to compete in Olympics

The following is an excerpt from an article originally posted at CanadaEast.com:

OTTAWA – Female ski jumpers have lost their battle to compete at the Vancouver Olympics.

The Supreme Court of Canada announced Tuesday that it will not hear an appeal by the athletes. The high court, as usual, gave no reasons for its decision. The women contend the Charter of Rights governs the Olympic Games and that Vancouver organizers are breaking the law by hosting only men’s ski jumping.

They were seeking leave to appeal two lower-court rulings that said the charter cannot dictate which sports are included in the Winter Games. The lower courts ruled that the charter does not apply to the International Olympic Committee, which made the jumping decision.

With the Games less than two months away, the women hoped the Supreme Court would expedite the case.

The women first launched a lawsuit against local organizers in May 2008, 18 months after the International Olympic Committee decided to exclude the sport.

They dropped a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission when the federal government agreed to lobby the IOC. When that failed, they pursued a court case.

The women wanted the courts to force Games organizers to either add a women’s event or cancel the men’s. Organizers said they could do neither.

The IOC voted not to include women’s ski jumping at the 2010 Games because, according to rules in place at the time, the sport was not developed enough.

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