Jack Shea: First of an Olympic dynasty
American speed skater Jack Shea won two Olympic gold medals in his hometown of Lake Placid in 1932 and played an instrumental part in the Games’ return to the same resort in 1980. The father of cross-country skier Jim Shea, who represented the USA at Innsbruck 1964, he was also the grandfather of Jim Shea Jr, the men’s skeleton champion at Salt Lake City 2002.
Inspired by Jewtraw
Situated in the Adirondacks in upstate New York, the village of Lake Placid has a proud speed skating tradition, one that dates back to 1924, when local boy Charles Jewtraw won gold in the men’s 500m at the inaugural Winter Olympic Games in Chamonix. Inspired by Jewtraw’s feats, John Amos Shea, better known as Jack, took up the sport on the nearby Mirror Lake and he was just 18 when he won the 1929 North American all-distance title on his home lake. By the time the Olympic Winter Games rolled into town in 1932, the young Shea had already established himself as something of a local celebrity.
Historic double gold
The Opening Ceremony of Lake Placid 1932 saw Shea take the Olympic Oath on behalf of all the athletes who would be competing over the following two weeks. The Games were then declared open by the then Governor of New York and soon-to-be President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and later that day the spotlight shifted back to Shea in the 500m speed skating. Like all the speed skating competitions at Lake Placid it was a packstyle event. After progressing through the heats, the hometown hero sped to the title in a time of 43.4 seconds, winning comfortably from Norway’s Bernt Evensen and Canada’s Alexander Hurd. The following day Shea he repeated the feat in the 1,500m, easing through the heats and then beating Canadian duo Hurd and Willy Logan in the final to become the first American athlete to win double gold at the Winter Games.
Birth of an Olympic dynasty
Shea refused to take part in the next Winter Games in Garmisch (GER) in 1936. “I majored in political science, and I knew what was going on in Germany and I didn't like it,” he was quoted as saying at the time. “I didn't compete again because in those days, 25 or 26 years of age was over the hill, and I had four kids then.”
Though Shea never trod the Olympic stage again, his son Jim followed in his footsteps at Innsbruck 1964, representing the USA in cross-country skiing. Meanwhile, Jack played an active role in promoting Lake Placid and in bringing about the return of the Winter Olympics to the resort in 1980.
Jim Jr keeps it in the family
Shea was a spritely 91-year-old when he took part in the Olympic torch relay for the Salt Lake City Winter Games in 2002, performing his leg at the same ice oval where he had achieved his golden double some 70 years earlier.
He appeared in the promotional campaign for the 2002 Games together with his son Jim and his grandson Jim Jr, who was set to compete in the skeleton event, much to his grandfather’s delight. Tragedy struck, however, when Jack was killed in a car accident just two weeks before the Games began. Carrying a photo of his late grandfather in his helmet, Jim Jr paid him the best possible tribute by winning gold for the USA on the track at Utah Olympic Park. “Jack can go to Heaven now,” said the youngest member of the Shea Olympic clan afterwards.
Curator of the Olympic spirt
Speaking of the huge contribution Jack Shea made to his home town, Mayor Roby Politi of Lake Placid said: “He was an important father figure for this community. He was a kind of curator of the Olympic spirit that this community has been engulfed with over the years.”