Gold Medalist’s ‘Greatest Olympic Moment’: Carrying World Trade Center Flag

By Melanie Arter | August 31, 2012 | 11:03 AM EDT

2002 speed skating gold medalist Derek Parra (AP Photo)

( Derek Parra, 2002 Winter Olympics speed skating gold medalist, described on Thursday at the 2012 Republican National Convention how it felt to carry the World Trade Center flag in the Olympic opening ceremonies.

“You might think my greatest Olympic moment came when I stood on the podium for the first time with a gold medal wrapped around my neck, but you’d be wrong. In fact, my most powerful Olympic memory came before the Olympics even started,” he said.

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“I got the call from the U.S. Olympic committee just hours before the ceremony, asking me if I would be able to be one of the eight athletes selected to carry the World Trade Center flag into the opening ceremonies. I was floored,” he said.

“Instantly I knew it was something I had to do, something I wanted to do. It was an honor beyond anything I could have imagined, and while it’s now just over 10 years later, at that time our country was still reeling from the wounds, the trauma and the pain of Sept. 11th,” said Parra.

“As the opening ceremonies got under way, the flag-bearing athletes and I gathered backstage. We were standing with the Port Authority officers, whose job it was to oversee the flag. They began telling us how proud they were of us, that the families of the victims were proud of us, that all the people who lost their lives were proud of us,” he added.

“When it came time to begin the procession, I touched the flag for the first time, and I remember a physical sensation unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. If it’s possible, if it’s possible to feel your soul being touched, then that’s what I felt. As we carried the flag out before a capacity crowd and worldwide television audience, the silence was deafening,” Parra said.

“That flag, which had flown over so much pain and loss, still stood for life, love, and the hope of a nation. There are a few times in any life when the emotion of a moment is all that exists. That night, time stood still,” the Olympic gold medalist said.

GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney headed the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.