Shea: Back from the track
Looks like the skeleton world’s loss is Park City’s gain. 2002 Olympic gold medallist Jim Shea returns to the area this week after announcing his retirement from international skeleton competition at the 2005 National Team Trials held in Calgary, Canada last week.
Shea is a native of Connecticut and Lake Placid, N.Y., but has no intentions of returning home just yet. For Shea, home has become Park City. After all, it was here that Shea became the only American to capture an Olympic gold medal in men’s skeleton, and it’s here that he plans to build the next stage of his life.
"I’ve moved to Utah and feel at home with it," Shea said. "I’m planning to do a lot more for my foundation, the Shea Foundation, which raises money for youth sports."
Shea entered the highest level of international skeleton competition over a decade ago, when he made the 1995 World Cup team. From there, he went on to set the standard in his sport. He became the first American to win the World Cup in skeleton. He was the first American to win a gold, silver and bronze in the World Championships, and the first to win the Goodwill Games in 2000. He has also set track records all over the world for push and down time. But like anything in life, it had to come to an end at some point. And for Shea, that time was this season after finishing seventh in the time trials. "Retirement is because I’m older. The young kids are better, faster and stronger," Shea said. "Anyone who doesn’t say that would be lying."
Shea had already flirted with the notion of retiring before the race in Calgary, but went through with it for his father. Jim Shea, Jr., a Nordic combined athlete in the 1964 Olympics, was recently selected as the president of the United States Bobsled and Skeleton Federation (USBSF). When the elder Shea was considering the position, he made a pact with his son that he would take it only if his son gave qualifying for one last Olympics a shot.
"My heart wasn’t in it, but I promised my dad I’d do it," Shea said. "I went to time trials and did the best I could. I had equipment trouble, but I can’t take anything away from the young kids. They are really fast and working hard. I wish them all the luck in the world."
Shea realizes that he only has himself to blame for the emergence of young and fast skeleton sliders by bringing the sport out of the shadows of bobsled and promoting it through both his accomplishments and his affable personality with both the public and the press.
"My father said, ‘That will teach you to make your sport popular,’" Shea said, laughing.
Shea has already been approached to start coaching skeleton, but he would rather wait to do that in later years. Right now, he is ready to truly experience Park City, without the pressure of training and the constant travel of competition. He wants to become a full member of the community, enjoying the mountains and taking time for himself.
"I just got done sledding. I want to spend some time with my dog, skiing at Deer Valley, snowmobiling& just do some things I haven’t been able to do in the last few years," Shea said.
That doesn’t mean that Shea is not still a part of the skeleton community. He works one-on-one with some of the promising, young local kids and is donating runners and trophies to Park City youth programs.
Through the Shea Foundation, he also hopes to continue to lend assistance to needy youth sports programs in the area. He plans on donating jackets to Park City Lacrosse and is always looking for other programs that truly need his help.
"[I pick] things that make kids feel great about what they’re doing and participation in sports," Shea said.
Shea also plans on working with the Utah Olympic Park (UOP) to help promote their programs and events. The track and venue hold a lot of good memories for Shea, and he wants to make sure the greater community is aware of all that the park has to offer.
"I want the community to use it and have fun with it really enjoy it, watch competitions and try the new rides," Shea said.
He also plans to start on the motivational speaking circuit, lending his experiences and wisdom to charity events or wherever the community might need him.
Basically, Shea just wants to embrace Park City fully now that his sliding days are over.
"I’m looking forward to getting back to Park City. I’ve been traveling the world for 10 years and I’ve never met a mayor as cool as Dana, and there’s a good tax base to do things for kids," Shea said. "I really want to give back. I had a good conversation with Zion’s Bank and giving back to the community with different fundraisers and organizations."
All this is not to say that Shea won’t miss his sport. He says that he received massive support and well wishes from the skeleton community and he plans to continue supporting the bright stars in the sport, especially those from Utah. One such athlete is Noelle Pikus-Pace, who broke her leg in a freak collision with a bobsled in Calgary. Shea was there when the ambulance took her away. He visited her in the hospital and gave her words of inspiration from his own experiences that she could come back from injury to win a medal in Italy.
"I told her that the easiest thing to do is give up," Shea said. "She had a real conviction in her to come back. She’s a real hard worker," Shea said.
Shea will never be able to stray too far away from the world of Winter Olympic sports. The Sheas are the only American family with three generations of Olympians and heunderstands the significance of his accomplishments. "I’m just really proud to be a part of the most famous Olympic family in winter sports," Shea said.
His grandfather, Jack, was a double gold medallist in the 1932 Olympics in speed skating and will be inducted into the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) Hall of Fame this year. In fact, it was the senior Shea that instilled the Olympic conviction in the youngest Shea.
"He said having a gold medal is a real responsibility and representing your country is a real responsibility," Shea said. "It was a huge honor to represent Utah and the U.S. for the last couple of years."
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