Denise Parker, at age 14, will go as the United State's top medal hopeful in women's archery to the Olympics in Seoul, Korea, in September. Parker won the morning Grand FITA shoot here Wednesday to clinch a spot on the three-member U.S. women's archery squad.
Parker has shot so well in this event she could finish last in the final event and still finish in the top three. She is the only archer here to be assured of a position thus far.After four rounds, Parker had five penalty points, Debra Ochs of Howell, Mich., had nine and Melanie Skillman of Laureldale, Pa., had 23. The fourth place archer had 33. The most points possible in a round is 24.
Ed Eliason of Stansbury Park, was still in the running for a spot on the men's team. He was fourth after the morning shoot with 18 points. To make the top three he would have to finish three places ahead of Richard McKinney of Gilbert, Ariz., with 16 points, in the afternoon shoot.
Even though this is her first Olympic trials meet, for Parker, she had visualized it many times - standing on the shooting line, pushing arrows out of her bow at targets down the lane, and hitting the gold center, bull's eye, with unequaled regularity. And always, she won.
When she was through, she'd climb off her waterbed, turn off the TV, glance at one or two pictures on the wall, turn off the lights and close the door to the special room in her South Jordan home.
Parker had shot this event many times in her mind before she ever arrived, which is likely why when she stepped to the line Tuesday and shot the highest score ever by an American woman in a Grand FITA (Federation of International Target Archers), beating the best women and men in the United States, it didn't surprise her. She'd done it visually before.
When she shot Tuesday, she was as confident and relaxed as if she were back home in Utah on her practice range, and did, in fact, say that once she got everything together, she began to look upon this event "as just another shoot."
In shooting the score, a 331, she also proved what her coach, Tim Strickland, has been saying all week, that there is not an archer in the United States, man or woman, "that can shoot with Denise when she's on."
The South Jordan archer shot her record in the afternoon Grand FITA. Archery officials said afterward it was the first time an American woman has shot over 330 of a possible 360. The old record was 328.
Meanwhile, on the right side of the field, Eliason of Stansbury Park, finally found the right hold on a new bow handle and won the men's afternoon shoot with a 326.
In the race for the Olympic spots, this left Parker in the lead with four penalty points over three days of shooting, Ochs was in second with six and Skillman in third with 18. For the men, Jay Barrs of Mesa, Ariz., led with five, Mark McKinney of Muncie, Ind., was second with nine, and Eliason and Darrell Pace of Hamilton, Ohio, were tied for third with 12.
Part of Parker's training for this event involved going into a special room at home, a room she decorated with a waterbed, large TV screen and pictures of her favorite rock groups on the wall. Here, she said, she would mentally shoot in the Olympic Grand FITA, starting with the preparation, the execution and satisfaction of seeing bull's eyes. She shot mental arrows at make-believe targets, and saw an imaginary scoreboard with her name on top.
Tuesday, it all came to life, almost exactly as she'd pictured.
She started out with her worst scores of the event, dropping to 13th after three ends (a round of three arrows) at 70 meters. She improved, but finished second to Ochs - 322 to 320. Eliason tied for sixth in the first shoot, Guy Bowden of Magna was 15th and Cindy Becker of Salt Lake City, who led at one point in the morning shoot, finished 10th.
In the afternoon shoot, Parker was noticeably more relaxed and confident. She started in the lead, and then steadily broke away from the pack, even though her scores at 30, 50 and 60 meters for both morning and afternoon shoots were almost identical. The difference came in the 70-meter shoot. She averaged near perfect nines, which meant she hit a target the size of a butter plate set out over 80 yards away with nine straight arrows.
Parker shot a 331, Ochs a 319, and Rebecca Wallace of Lukeville, Ariz., was third with 315. For the men, Eliason had a 326, Barrs a 324 and McKinney a 321.
When she finished, Parker admitted she wasn't shooting smoothly when she started, "and I didn't score well.
"I tried to relax. At times I tried to picture myself back home shooting on my practice range. It helped. I was a lot more relaxed in the afternoon. I finished up shooting well in the morning, which gave me confidence going into the second (afternoon) pass. That was the difference," she said as she held the ice bag to her left shoulder.
Asked about her shoulder (diagnosed as tendonitis a week before this event), she said it didn't bother her at all Tuesday. Sunday, when she finished shooting, it was very sore.
About shooting the record, she smiled, shrugged her shoulders and said it was nice, "because now I know I can do it."
According to Strickland, it was only recently that female archers in Korea, considered the leaders in the sport, broke 330 in Grand FITA shoots (nine arrows each at four distances - 30, 50, 60, 70 for women).
"That's world class," he said. "If she shoots like that in the Olympics she'll be right up with the best."