OGDEN — It's no longer 1988 and she's no longer 14 years old and the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic Team traveling to Seoul, South Korea.
But in many ways it's deja vu all over again for Denise Parker.
At the ripe young age of 38 she is traveling this month to the London Olympics as CEO of USA Archery — one of the youngest, if not the youngest, head of any U.S. sport headed to the Games.
"I don't look like the others (CEOs), definitely," says Denise. "Most of them have gray hair and suits."
But neither did she look like the others when she marched into the Olympic Stadium in Seoul in '88, halfway around the world from her ninth-grade classmates at Bingham Middle School. At 14 years and nine months she was the baby of the entire 533-member U.S. team; she looked up to everyone.
Undeterred, and weighing in at 105 pounds, she went on to lead the three-member U.S. women's archery team to a bronze-medal finish at the Hwarang Archery Field, where, belying the pressure, she scored a bulls-eye and two nines in the tension-filled end of regulation. It was just enough. The U.S. held off the Soviet Union by a single point.
Then again, America might have won silver that day. Indonesia also finished regulation just one point in front of the Soviets, tied with America for second place behind Korea.
That meant an arrow-off to settle the silver. Denise stayed steady as ever, with a 10, a 9 and an 8 on her three arrows, but her teammate Melanie Skillman, who earlier in the week finished 15th in the world in the individual competition (Denise was 21st), missed not just the target but the entire bale on her first arrow. The resultant zero added up to a 72-67 loss for the U.S.
Twenty-four years later, Denise muses, "It's funny, I never think, 'Oh, we almost had the silver.' I just remember we won the bronze."
Maybe that's because she has such a personal knowledge of just how hard it is to climb onto an Olympic podium. She competed twice more in the Games, in 1992 at Barcelona and 2000 at Sydney, and while she came close — fifth individually in Barcelona and fifth as a team in Sydney — she never quite replicated Seoul.
She "retired" after Sydney — with five national championships on her resume, two Pan American Games gold medals and a world championship bronze to bookend her Olympic bronze.
She landed where most decorated Olympians land — on TV. At the last two Olympics — Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008 — she was an NBC commentator.
But Beijing did not go well for America, archery-wise, and shortly following those medal-free Olympics in China, Bradley Camp, the CEO of USA Archery, stepped down. An overhaul of the entire organization was ordered; a new board convened. Denise was asked to be a part of it. The board interviewed dozens of applicants to take over as the sport's leader.
Finally, the other members of the board decided they liked the questions Denise was asking better than any of the answers they were hearing.
They asked her to be the new CEO.
She resisted at first. She still had the athletes' mindset of management being, if not the enemy, then something dangerously close.
But she'd seen team managers come and go, and while they might have strong sports backgrounds, they didn't seem to "get" the nuances of her sport.
"If I'm not going to do this, who is?" is the question Denise says she asked herself.
So she said OK.
Three and a half years later, she is taking her first team to the Olympics, amid high hopes and bright forecasts after a number of organizational changes she's helped implement.
And by the way, she freely admits she won't be as nervous as that 14-year-old who competed in Seoul.
She'll be way more nervous than that.
"It's not easy, just to sit there and watch and not shoot," she says. "I'll be so stressed out, I don't know if any of them (the archers) should see me."
But she'll be there just the same, front and center, just like in Seoul. Only different. She'll be the CEO without the gray hair, and not wearing a suit.
Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Monday and Friday.
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