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The Three “J”s in Olympic History


A third generation Olympian, Jim Shea took the gold medal in the skeleton at the Olympic Games in Salt Lake City in 2002. It brought immense joy for this athlete, who was thus able to dedicate his victory to his beloved grandfather, who had died 17 days before the Games. As he celebrated his 39th birthday yesterday, let’s take a look at how these Games were so symbolic for him.

Olympism as a family vocation
A grandfather who swore the Olympic oath and won two gold medals in speed skating at the Lake Placid Games in 1932, and a father who competed in Nordic combined and cross-country skiing at the Innsbruck Games in 1964 – that’s what gave Jim Shea the urge to continue the family tradition. They were the first US family to take part in the Winter Games over three generations! You can see who Jim takes after as regards the qualities of an Olympic champion: incessant work, perseverance, determination, the quest for excellence and friendship. These family values also allowed him to conquer his dyslexia and build his self-confidence.
Jim began by excelling in the two-man then the four-man bobsleigh events. In 1995, he moved on to the skeleton. The discipline suited him marvellously as he won many competitions, including the World Championships in 1999.
At the Salt Lake City Olympic Winter Games, he was among the torch bearers and, like his grandfather 70 years beforehand, swore the Olympic oath.
On 22 February 2002, in the final, in poor weather conditions, Jim came down the track in 50.07 seconds and snatched the gold medal ahead of Austria’s Martin Rettl. Before the start, Jim had slipped a photo of his grandfather, who died just before the opening of the Games, inside his helmet. So, accompanied by the spirit of his grandfather, that day he became Olympic skeleton champion.
With the family tradition brilliantly perpetuated, and the memory of his grandfather honoured, Jim Shea went on to have several more victories. In 2005, aged 37, he retired from competition.

The skeleton: a fleeting discipline on the Games programme
Introduced in the Swiss town of St Moritz at the end of the 18th century, skeleton first appeared on the Olympic programme at the Games in this town in 1928. It then disappeared from the programme and reappeared again at the St Moritz Games in 1948. Then it was no longer heard of until the Salt Lake City Games. In 2002, it was re-included in the programme and a women’s event was even introduced.

Imagine the strength required at the start to give the decisive boost that allows the athlete to save the several hundredths of a second needed to guarantee success! Imagine the courage required to hurtle down the track at over 120km/h on a small metal luge! Imagine the technique required to find the best line of descent and to take the bends freely and rapidly. Imagine the precision required to master the luge, which was named after its resemblance to a skeleton.

This was the feat accomplished by the USA’s Jennison Heaton, Olympic champion in 1928; Italy’s Nino Bibbia, gold medallist in 1948; Jim Shea and the USA’s Tristan Gale, gold medallists in 2002; and Canada’s Gibson Duff and Switzerland’s Maya Pederson in 2006. Will these last two defend their title in Vancouver in 2010?

The Olympic spirit, a family spirit
In 2002, on a wave of Olympic enthusiasm, Jim and his family created a foundation to develop and sponsor young people practising the ski jump, skating and the skeleton. It is an ideal initiative to convey and perpetuate through the young generation values such as perseverance and courage – values shown by Jack, James and Jim Shea, the three “J”s of Olympic history.


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