Relighting the fire within Day 7: Shea struck gold for sliding sports

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 14 2012 8:00 p.m. MST

Jimmy Shea, Jr. (right), 2002 Olympic gold medalist in skeleton, and his father Jim Shea, Sr., raised the profile of sliding sports.

Johanna Kirk, All

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Editor's note: This is the seventh in a series of articles looking back on the 2002 Winter Games in conjunction with the event's 10-year anniversary.

PARK CITY — Sports were always a sanctuary for Jimmy Shea.

"Sport was the only thing I could do just like everybody else," he said. "And it was a great outlet for me, and it taught me so many great skills."

Shea might have been just another weekend warrior were it not for the sport of skeleton. Sliding head first down an icy track may seem more about guts and nerve than athletic skill. But those who compete in the sport, which was admitted into the games in 2002, understand just how much skill — and strategy — it takes to compete in skeleton.

Shea was living in upstate New York when he decided to move to Utah to train in the sport in 1997. He lived out of his car until friends and supporters offered to help him.

"It was not an easy road, and I was out here trying to raise money for sponsorships," he said.

Training on the track which would eventually host the Olympics gave Shea a number of advantages. He even met Olympic CEO Mitt Romney and was able to plead for funding for sliding sports.

His relentless efforts on behalf of the sport and his success on the World Cup Tour helped those sports become part of the Winter Olympics again.

Shea was the third generation of men in his family to compete in the Olympic Winter Games. Before his gold-medal winning run, he tucked a picture of his grandfather, who'd died in a car accident weeks before the 2002 Games, into the lining of his helmet. During the medal ceremony, he wore his grandfather's gold medal while accepting his own.

Shea's victory was one of two in skeleton on Feb. 20, but followed a hugely successful outing by the Americans in sliding sports throughout the games. On Feb. 15, 2002, the U.S. won silver and bronze in doubles luge, and those were just the first medals won at Park City's Utah Olympic Park. Mark Grimmette and Brian Martin won silver, while Clay Ives and Chris Thorpe earned a bronze medal.

Now, a decade later, Shea said remembering the reason for the games is more important than ever.

"I think the Olympic movement is extremely important and it gets more and more important every year," said Shea. "If you dream big enough, things can happen. The only thing stopping your dreams is you."

email: adonaldson@desnews.com

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