Park City sends a final Olympic salute to retiring Jim Shea
Prior to Feb. 20, 2002, an approachable Jim Shea would patiently explain his sport to anyone who asked. Skeleton had been cut from the Olympics in the 1940s and few remembered the daredevils who had raced head-first down steep icy chutes. But Shea’s growing success on the European circuit convinced organizers of the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City to petition the International Olympic Committee to put skeleton back on track. The IOC said ‘yes,’ and as the 2002 Winter Games approached, the affable Shea tirelessly plugged his sponsors and trained.
As Olympic crowds poured into Park City, many of the athletes sequestered themselves in preparation for their events. Not Shea. He was busy passing out commemorative Olympic pins on Main Street, granting interviews to the media, both local and international and shaking hands with spectators at the Utah Olympic Park.
On Feb. 20, Shea earned a gold medal in skeleton and charmed the nation as the third generation in his family to compete in the Winter Olympics. He became an instant hero and was paraded down Main Street behind a team of Clydesdale horses. Still, he was just as patient, just as approachable, but now those who met him also got to hold a real Olympic medal.
The Olympic win shot Shea into the global spotlight with appearances on network TV and in glossy magazines. Nevertheless he always seemed to find time to help promote local fundraisers and youth sporting events. Technically, Shea hails from Lake Placid, N. Y. But Parkites also like to claim him as a native son. He is the one who patiently introduced us to the sport of skeleton and, more than that, showed us the stuff that real champions are made of. So it was with a certain amount of sadness and nostalgia that we learned Sunday of his decision to retire.
Hopefully, Shea will continue to find excuses to visit Park City, even if it doesn’t involve hurtling down the track at the Utah Olympic Park. In many ways, he was our touchstone during the 2002 Games and, although that particular flame has been extinguished, Shea has a way of rekindling the spirit of the Olympics whenever he is in town.
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