Parra glides to gold
Born and raised in California, Derek Parra’s first passion was not for ice or snow but for inline skating, and he did anything he could to hone his skills, including working at a nearby rink in order to earn extra admission time to hone his skills. He was so successful that he became one of the world's top inline skaters, winning US and world titles. But he was keen to push himself further, so he decided to harness his raw speed and technical ability and switch to the ice. Inline skating was out, and, from 1996, speed skating was in.
While his progress was impressive, he didn’t become a success overnight. He just about qualified for the 1998 Games in Nagano but then lost his place due to an administrative error. Rather than getting angry, Parra channelled his disappointment into a determination to improve and prosper.
He got faster and faster, improving both his technique and his tactical knowledge. World championship medals followed and in 2002 he placed third at the world all-rounds. So it was with an air of renewed confidence that he approached Salt Lake City.
Parra's main priority was the 1,500m but he was entered in three events starting with the 5,000m, and he duly produced a performance that stunned the watching world. With the calm of a veteran, he produced fast lap after fast lap, leaving himself on course not just for a medal, but for a new world record. In the end, his time was beaten by the Dutch skater Jochem Uytdehaage but Parra’s feat was nonetheless enormous and he had a silver medal as his reward.
He then went one better in what was a very open 1,500m competition. This time it was Uytdehaage's turn to produce the early shock as he broke the world record to go to the top of the standings. Parra now knew he would have to produce something extraordinary to win – and that is precisely what he did, lowering the world record by more than half a second to seal the gold medal. The former inline skater was now an Olympic speed skating champion.