Archive for Thursday, February 21, 2002

Third-generation U.S. Olympian claims gold

February 21, 2002


— Jim Shea Jr. is convinced that Gramps had something to do with this.

He was trailing by the slimmest of margins, the skeleton gold medal slipping away. Then, in the final yards  somehow, some way  he made up the time and zoomed to victory.

"I think my grandfather had some unfinished business down here," Shea said. "Now he can go up to heaven."

With his grandfather's funeral card tucked inside his helmet, Shea did indeed win the gold Wednesday, finishing the two runs at Utah Olympic Park in 1 minute, 41.96 seconds.

Thus culminated an emotional two months for Shea, the youngest member of America's first three-generation family of Winter Olympians.

His 91-year-old grandfather, Jack, who died last month, was the first double gold medalist in the Winter Olympics, winning two speedskating events at the 1932 Lake Placid Games. He was also America's oldest living Winter Olympian.

Shea's father, Jim Sr., was also an Olympian and competed in three cross-country events at the 1964 Innsbruck Games.

He watched with tears in his eyes as his son beat defending world champion Martin Rettl of Austria, who won the silver in 1:42.01. World Cup champion Gregor Staehli of Switzerland, the 1994 world champion who came out of retirement to compete, won the bronze in 1:42.15.

"I think his Gramp was there giving him that little extra push," Jim Shea Sr. said.

The Sheas are just the second family to have athletes of two generations win gold medals. Bill Christian was on the U.S. hockey team that won gold in 1960, and his son Dave was a member of the "Miracle on Ice" hockey team at the 1980 Lake Placid Games.

Shea's victory gave the United States a record seven gold medals with four days to go in the games. When Tristan Gale took the women's skeleton gold about a half-hour after Shea won, the United States increased its medal total to 25, almost double its previous best of 13, won at each of the last two Winter Games.

Skeleton, in which competitors race headfirst down the ice at about 80 mph on a sled that looks like a large lunch tray, made its first appearance in the Winter Olympics since 1948 and only its third ever.

Wearing a gold medal his grandfather won in 1921, Shea had the fastest first run on a snowy morning and then did just enough on his second one to hold off Rettl.

When his sled, airbrushed with the American flag, slowed after his final run, Shea couldn't wait to celebrate. He was so excited he fell off. He then pulled out his grandfather's card and waved it as fans chanted "U-S-Shea! U-S-Shea!"

He stared up at the clock at Utah Olympic Park just to make sure as Rettl and Ireland's Clifton Wrottesley hugged him.

"I told him, 'Live the dream,"' said Wrottesley, who finished fourth, narrowly missing his country's first Winter Olympic medal. "I think it's a fitting tribute to Jack."

Another American, Lincoln Dewitt of Park City, rallied for fifth in 1:42.83.

Shea was thrilled when he qualified for the U.S. team in December, and so were his father and grandfather. The three were featured in national TV commercials and publications.

But just when the family was preparing to go to Salt Lake City together last month, Jack Shea died after a car accident just a few blocks from his Lake Placid, N.Y., home.

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