No one knows why Denise Parker shoots a bow and arrow so well. Now, it's simply accepted, like air, water and power at the flip of a light switch. She became so good so fast, it seemed almost too easy.
She showed up, shot, won, and is now headed for Seoul, South Korea, to represent America in the Summer Olympics. She is, at 14, America's best female archer. Of the 80 best women trying to make the U.S. team, Denise outshot them all.As proof, she's shaken hands with the President, talked with Johnny Carson, been featured on national TV, written up in Sports Illustrated, and won a gold medal in the Pan American Games.
Certainly a gold medal in Seoul isn't too much to expect. Or is it? After all, she's only been shooting bow and arrow for four years, and at the adult level for a little over one year.
Also, remember, Denise is only 14. At a time when most her
eers are worrying about algebra problems and braces, she'll be asked to deal with pressures that go with an Olympics and competing with world-class athletes - all before an audience of a few hundred million people.
Before leaving Salt Lake City last week she expressed to her father, Earl, her deepest concern about the coming event.
"I don't want to be a Debi Thomas," she said about not living up to pre-Olympic expectations. "People tell me all the time I can win a gold . . . My goal was to make the Olympics this year. I know it's going to be tough to win a medal."
Realistically, her chances of winning a medal in these Games are slim. As good as she is, there are those who are better. True, earlier this year she shot a 1,301 of a possible 1,440 to become the first American woman to ever shoot over 1,300 in an official competition. There are, however, in South Korea, China and Russia, where archery enjoys a higher profile, over 30 women who have shot over 1,300. Some do it regularly.
Kim Su Nyung of South Korea, holds the world record with a score of 1,338. Ludmila Arzhannikova of Russia and world champion Ma Xiagjun of the People's Republic of China both consistently shoot over 1,300.
And there are other factors. In May, Denise suffered tendinitis in her left shoulder (she shoots left handed). After the Olympic trials in June, she stayed away from shooting for one month to let the injury heal.
For the last month she has, said her father, been working herself back into shape slowly, "starting with 10 arrows a day, then 15 and 20, until she got back up to 100 a day."
Also, to help solve the problem, her bow weight was lowered from 31, already about five pounds lighter than what most women archers use, to 25. A lighter bow means she has to shoot differently. For one thing she has to put more arch on the arrows. For another, she has to be more aware of breezes. Arched arrows hang longer, so they are more vulnerable to winds.
All this will, he said, make a difference.
"Right now she's shooting about 10 to 15 points off her usual average," he added. By the time she shoots in the Olympics he expects she'll be shooting scores like she was before the injury or the change to the lighter bow.
Under the Olympic format, archers will shoot at distances of 30, 50, 60 and 70 meters. A complete round will be shot in two days. After the first round the field will be cut to 24. At this point a new format will be used. After two days of shooting mornings and evenings, the highest eight archers will advance to the medal round. Her realistic goal is to make it into the final round.
That, she feels, she can do. She knows, however, that the competition will be the best there is.
One thing in her favor is that she typically shoots better under pressure. When shooting for her record 1,301, for example, it appeared the record was out of her reach as the round closed. Near perfect scores - 10s - were needed from the final 15 arrows to do it - but she did it.
In Seoul, she will be face the greatest challenge an archer can face.
And if she doesn't medal?
"I won't feel bad," she said. "I made the Olympic team. That was my goal. Now it's to shoot the best I can and make the finals. No, I won't feel bad."
Besides, there's always 1992. She'll be 18 then, four years older, four years better, old enough to vote, and still one of the youngest archers in the Games.