All in the family: three generations of Olympians
Tuesday, January 22, 2002
Shea, 91, among three generations of Olympians
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- Jack Shea, the patriarch of the first
family with three generations of Olympians and the winner of two
gold medals at the 1932 Winter Games, died early Tuesday from
injuries in a car accident.
At 91, he was America's oldest living Winter Olympics gold
medalist. Shea, a speedskater at the Lake Placid Games, became even
more famous because of his son and grandson.
National media courted him. Sprint made a TV commercial
featuring the family. He jetted back and forth to Salt Lake City,
excited by the prospect of watching grandson Jim Jr. compete in
skeleton in February.
"Gosh, it will be wonderful to see Jimmy march into the Olympic
Stadium," said Shea, whose son, Jim, competed in the Nordic
combined and two cross-country ski races at the 1964 Innsbruck
Games. "The pride that's coming to me will be absolutely
That dream ended after a van slid out of control late Monday
afternoon and hit Shea's car. Herbert J. Reynolds, 36, of Saranac
Lake, N.Y., was charged with driving while intoxicated and other
"Until yesterday, we were living our dream, and for dad it
didn't happen," said Shea's son, Jim. "But his spirit will be
carried forward by (grandson) Jimmy."
Shea Jr. issued the following statement through his agency, Edge Sports International.
"My grandfather used to dream about me competing in the Olympics. When I qualified for the Games, he could not have been more proud," Shea Jr. said. "It was one of our best moments, one that I will always remember. He knew better than most the importance of the Games.
"My grandfather always felt it was not who won the gold, it was truly about bringing the world together in a peaceful setting. I plan on dedicating this year's Games to my grandfather."
News of the elder Shea's death spread quickly -- Sprint
spokeswoman Laurie Ellison said the popular commercial would be
pulled -- and saddened the village where the family had settled in
the 1880s. Flags around town were lowered to half-staff.
"It's a tragic day for us," said Sandy Caligiore of the New
York State Olympic Regional Development Authority, which oversees
the winter sports venues in the region. "Jack basically was the
steward for Lake Placid. He really understood what the Olympic
movement was all about. He was moving in that direction every day.
To end so suddenly without seeing his grandson compete next month
is a tragedy on top of what already has been a tragic day."
Back troubles had kept Shea from skating much since the 1950s.
But he attended speedskating events in Lake Placid, and when the
Olympic Torch Relay came through the village three weeks ago on its
way to Salt Lake City, Shea carried the flame into the Olympic
Speedskating Oval where he had won his gold medals and ignited the
"We have lost a true Olympic hero and inspirational human
being," said Lloyd Ward, chief executive officer of the U.S.
Olympic committee. "Jack Shea lived the Olympic ideal and passed
along his knowledge to generations within the Shea family. We hope
his legacy and inspiration will be a strength to his grandson."
Mitt Romney, president of the Salt Lake City Organizing
Committee, said there had been plans to honor Shea at the opening
ceremonies of the Olympics.
Jack Shea's first speedskating race, at age 7, certainly wasn't
a portent of the greatness that would follow. He fell only 15 feet
from the starting line. In tears, he was picked up off the ice by
local police chief Tom Black, who told him there would be other
When the Winter Games came to Lake Placid for the first time in
1932, the 22-year-old Shea skated past the Scandinavian stars to
win gold in the 500-meter event in 43.4 seconds. That was
six-tenths of a second faster than his idol, Charles Jewtraw,
posted in winning gold in 1924 at Chamonix.
"When I stood on that dais to get the gold medal and I heard
the national anthem of the United States, how proud I was to
represent my country, my community, my father and mother, to follow
in the footsteps of Charlie Jewtraw," Shea said in an interview
with the Associated Press in 1990.
Shea also won the 1,500 meters.
When he graduated from Dartmouth in 1934 as the Depression
gripped the country, Shea was unable to take full advantage of his
Ivy League education. He got a job in the post office delivering
In 1936, Shea was a stronger competitor and had a chance at
winning more Olympic medals at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. But
Lake Placid had a large Jewish community whose rabbi asked him not
to compete in Hitler's Germany, and Shea agreed.
After also working in the family market for years, Shea was
elected supervisor of the Town of North Elba in 1974 and served
eight years. He made it a personal quest to help persuade the
International Olympic Committee to stage the Winter Games in his
hometown again in 1980.
"I felt I would like to accomplish one more medal, to bring the
Olympics back to Lake Placid," Shea said.
Shea is survived by his wife, Elizabeth, and three sons. Another
son, Patrick, committed suicide in 1978 at 36.
Funeral services will be held Friday.
|The Shea family, from left: Jim Shea Sr.; his son Jim Jr., a 2002 Olympian in the skeleton, and father Jack, who won two golds in speedskating in 1932.|
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