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Two Floridians plan to retire

Posted: Friday, February 22, 2002

SALT LAKE CITY _ This is it. The Olympic careers of two Floridians, one native and one transplanted, will end events that begin Friday.

Derek Parra will skate in the men's 10,000 meters Friday.

Brian Shimer will drive a four-man bobsled Friday and Saturday.

A medal? It isn't likely. But it would mean something different in each case. For Parra, it would be icing on the ice. For Shimer, it would be the prize at the end of a 15-year quest.

Let's start with Parra. The 31-year-old who now calls Orlando, Fla., home _ after growing up in San Bernardino, Calif., spending a few years in the Tampa Bay area and, most recently, living and training in the Salt Lake City area _ already has won two medals here. He captured a silver in the 5,000. Then, Tuesday night, he won a gold, breaking the world record in the 1,500 (1 minute, 43.95 seconds) by more than a second and adding another piece to a memorable story.

Parra began skating on a roller rink in San Bernardino, hustling other kids for hot dogs and Cokes. It wasn't until he was driving through Milwaukee, on his way to a wedding, that he tried skating on ice.

It was a decision that led to lots of hard times _ from sleeping on the floor of a teammate's one-bedroom apartment in the early days of training to being away from his wife, Tiffany, for most of the last four years _ but culminated with him becoming the first Mexican-American to win a medal. And then becoming the first American double-medalist of these Games.

He says this is it, that he wants to spend time with Tiffany and their 10-week-old daughter, Mia.

He will be a longshot in the 10,000, an event dominated by the Dutch. But members of "Team Parra" _ the group of family and friends that have been cheering him on from the stands of the Utah Olympic Oval _ say not to count him out.

"The bronze is next," said his older brother, Gilbert. "He deserves all three colors."

He has joked that when he goes back to work for his employer/sponsor Home Depot maybe "they'll move me out to lumber ... Somebody said I came out of the woodwork."

Shimer, 39, has hardly come out of the woodwork. The Florida native _ he was born in Naples _ is competing in his fifth Olympics. And still looking for his first medal of any color.

For months, he has been making bold predictions for these Games. He has said that one of the American teams would win a medal, snapping a streak that dated back to dated to 1952.

"You can write this," Shimer said last fall. "On such and such a date, Brian Shimer stated that after either the two-man race or the four-man race, there's going to a U.S. medal. Whoever is here representing the U.S. is a favorite to win the gold medal. Any medal? No question. A gold medal is always going to be a fight. But a medal? No question."

At a press conference on the first day of the Games, Shimer repeated his prediction.

"I think that 46-year drought will come to an end," he said. "I can see the rain clouds coming."

He was right, although they came in a surprising form. The men struck out in the two-man bobsled. The sled driven by Todd Hays placed fourth. Shimer and Darrin Steele placed ninth. But on Tuesday, Jill Bakken and Vonetta Flowers, considered by most the second of two U.S. teams in the women's bobsled, won the gold medal in the event.

The drought is over.

In a way, that alone is a victory for Shimer. He has helped a U.S. program that he recalls was "a joke" and made it respectable.

"I'm ready to pass the torch," he said.

First, though, there is one more event. Sports Illustrated pegged the favorites as the Germans and the German _ one sled driven by Andre Lange and another by Christopher Langen.

Shimer has had some memorable near-misses. In 1992, the former Morehead State football player teamed up with one from Georgia _ Herschel Walker _ and placed seventh. Four years ago, in Nagano, he missed a bronze by .02 seconds.

Win or lose, this is it.

And, yes, there will be crying in bobsleigh.

"I already told 'em, 'Guys, I hope you have some tissues ready, because I'm going to be bawling."



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