Jim Shea added another glorious chapter to his family’s much storied Olympic history on an unforgettable afternoon at Salt Lake City’s Utah Olympic Park in 2002.
The Olympic Games are in the Shea family’s blood. Shea’s grandfather Jack Shea won two gold speedskating gold medals in the 1932 Games in Lake Placid while Jim Shea Snr competed in the 1964 Games in Nordic combined and cross country skiing.
Now the spotlight was on Jim Jr, whose early childhood and formative education had been blighted by the impact of dyslexia.
Determined to become the third generation of his family to compete at the highest level of winter sports, Jim initially targeted bobsleigh but the costs proved to be prohibitive and he turned his attention to the less kit-reliant skeleton.
The event had not been contested at a Winter Games for 54 years prior to its reintroduction in 2002, and few could have predicted the chaotic and emotional scenes that would greet the winner of the men’s gold medal.
Tragedy struck the family with the Games just on the horizon when Jack Shea, aged 91, was killed in a road accident.
It was a mere 17 days later that Jim Shea was required to focus on becoming an Olympic champion. He had already become the first American to win a World Cup race, and he also became the first from his country to take the world title in 1999 in Altenberg, Germany.
However the Olympic Games generate pressure like no other event and not only did he have to face the world’s best but he was also trying to satisfy the demands of a patriotic home crowd who were eager for an emotional victory.
In the first run Shea built up the slenderest of leads and went into the second run just .13secs clear of Austria’s Martin Rettl.
With the crowd roaring him on, Shea started the second run and slipped a hundredth of a second off the pace at the penultimate intermediary time. Yet somehow he regained top speed and managed to eke out victory by .06secs.
It brought the house down, and Shea was quick to pluck a photograph of his late grandfather from his helmet and show it to the exultant crowd.