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Wednesday, February 20, 2002
Shea wins, and says late grandfather helped out

Associated Press

PARK CITY, Utah -- Jimmy Shea is convinced Gramps had something to do with this.

Jim Shea
It was a golden morning for Jim Shea and his family and friends at the skeleton competition.

There's no doubt in his mind.

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 also was America's oldest living Winter Olympian.

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

Wednesday, 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.

Dad also had a theory about what happened:

"I think his Gramp was there giving him that little extra push."

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. Americans have won six golds four times at the Winter Olympics, most recently at the 1998 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 1932, 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!"

For a moment, Utah Olympic Park was Shea's Stadium. Then he stared up at the clock 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. I'm sure he's up there with my dad doing cartwheels in the sky."

The medals ceremony was touching, too. Before stepping onto the podium, Shea looked down and stroked his grandfather's old medal. The national anthem played and Shea stood proudly, belting out the words. He threw Olympic souvenir pins to the crowd, and pointed to all those friends, acquaintances, Americans who crowded the railing to see him.

Afterward, his father said he had one thought as he watched young Jim get the gold.

"How special it would have been if his grandfather would have been there," Jim Sr. said.

Another American, Lincoln Dewitt of Park City, rallied for fifth in 1:42.83 after a bad first run. Chris Soule of Trumbull, Conn., was seventh in 1:42.98.

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 television 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.

Shea's triumph almost seemed predestined. The steady snow meant that those sliding later in the first run would have tougher sledding.

Staehli, who won all but one of the five races during the World Cup season, slid first. But when he finished in 51.16 seconds, the opportunity was there.

Rettl was next, and he zoomed into first place in 51.02. After Duff Gibson of Canada went down in 51.40, the track was slower as Shea came to the line for the first time.

If an injury to his left leg was bothering him, it wasn't evident. At the start house, feeling the energy of the moment, Shea jumped up and down and ran in place. Fans roared their encouragement, holding signs aloft that read "Go Jimmy."

"I just tried to concentrate on the basics," said Shea, whose mother, Judy, was waiting at the finish line. "There's so much going on. There were 15,000 screaming people. I was just having a blast."

Back home in Lake Placid, the crowd at the Great Adirondack Steak and Seafood restaurant shouted with joy, waved American flags and chanted, "Go, Jimmy! Go, Jimmy!" when word arrived that Shea had won.

"Isn't that wonderful?" said a jubilant Joan Kane, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Ed. The couple's son is married to Shea's sister Sarah.

"I really think that his grandpa was right on that sled with him."