The Home Depot has three new pieces of hardware to add to its stock: two gold medals and a silver. But proud co-workers of the two winning employees aren't putting the precious metals in the storeroom.

Two employees who call Utah their home have struck gold during the Games in the past two days. Derek Parra, who raced to a silver medal at the beginning of the Olympics in the 5,000-meter speedskating event, won a gold Tuesday in the 1,500 meters, his best event, and Tristan Gale won a gold medal Wednesday in skeleton with a two-heat total time of 1:45.11.

Parra and Gale are two of about 20 Home Depot employee-athletes competing in the Winter Games and Paralympic Games who are also members of the Olympic Job Opportunity Program through the U.S. Olympic Committee. The program offers full-time pay to athletes for a 20-hour work week during the competition and training seasons.

"Scheduling hasn't been a problem because she brings so much to the table when she's here," said Heidi Pope, who hired Gale at the Fort Union store last September.

Parra's Home Depot co-worker Mark Wagner said he knew the speedskater would win the gold in the 1,500 meters. After all, he had already won a silver Feb. 9 in a race where he wasn't even a favored contender.

"He's always been a standout," said West Valley Home Depot store manager John Oldham. "Before he won gold he was still signing autographs—he's that kind of an athlete."

Utah's Home Depot stores boast seven Olympians this year: five in the Winter Games and two in the Paralympic Games. Alpine skier Alexandra Shaffer will race on Feb. 22, and paralympic skiers Monte Meier and Clay Fox are yet to compete. Speedskater Jondon Trevena placed 15th in the 5,000 meters and Annie Driscoll, placed 21st in the women's 3,000-meter speedskating event.

Parra, a native of San Bernardino, Calif., has been a Home Depot employee since May 1999 and has been at the West Valley store for 1 1/2 years while training in Salt Lake City. That training paid off Tuesday when he set an Olympic and world record in the 1,500 meters with a time of 1:43.95. He has said that without the financial security the program and Home Depot have provided, he wouldn't be skating anymore.

"He's very hardworking, he's good with customers," Oldham said of Parra, who has worked in both the electrical and floor and wall departments. "Whatever you ask him to do he'll do it up and beyond; he breeds a good attitude."

Gale, a native of New Mexico who attended Sandy's Brighton High School and the Salt Lake Community College, has worked in the garden department where co-worker Jenny Lambson says she brings unlimited spunk and energy to the job.

"She's awesome, she's a really good employee," Pope said, adding that having a gold-medal Olympian working in the store "brings of sense of pride and excitement."

After his silver-medal performance in the 5,000 meters, Parra stopped by work to greet co-workers, customers and fans. Oldham is hoping he can make a repeat appearance before he races in the 10,000 meters for another medal on Friday. Pope said she is hoping for a visit from Gale at her store.

The victories of both athletes were announced over the intercoms at the stores Tuesday and Wednesday, and all the employees went wild. Some were even brought to tears.

Among those were two of Parra's fellow floor and wall workers Wendi Pearson and Ed Peterson.

"He's eager to learn, he wants to help people," Pearson said. "You wouldn't know he's famous."

Peterson, who now serves in the millworks department, said when he's introduced Parra to customers as a speedskater who has placed highly in world championships, Parra turns red with embarrassment and humility.

"He's just a down to earth, cool guy," Peterson said.

Gale, the 2000-01 American's Cup Champion, also exudes those qualities, Lambson said.

"She doesn't go around bragging about it at all," she said.


E-mail: [email protected]