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Wednesday, 20 February, 2002, 21:43 GMT

Tearful triumph cheers America

BBC Sport Online's Alex Gubbay explains why Jim Shea Jr's skeleton gold will mean so much to the host nation

It has been a whirlwind few weeks for Jim Shea Jr.

The third generation Olympian lost his famous grandfather, Jack, in a car crash barely a month ago.

Then, in the opening ceremony as these Games started, Jim took the Olympic oath on behalf of every athlete here, an honour he told me he would always cherish.

Now, after sliding to skeleton gold, you can be sure his life has irrevocably changed once more.

His story is the archetypal American fairytale, and will be lapped up across the States in the days to come.

The Shea Story
Three Olympic generations:
Jack - Double speed skating gold at Lake Placid, 1932
Jim Sr - Nordic skier at Squaw Valley, 1960
Jim Jr - Skeleton gold at Salt Lake City, 2002

As if to make sure, Shea slid with a bald eagle on his helmet, and as he revealed on completing his second run, a photograph of his late grandfather inside.

"My grandpa was with me the whole way, but so were 15,000 screaming people," he said.

"I knew what I had to do - my coach said I was going to win gold and I believed it."

Despite that demonstrative patriotism, Shea remains a hugely likeable, and gracious Olympic champion.

He truly appreciated the significance of reciting the same words in that oath that his grandfather, who won double speed skating gold back in 1932, had delivered at Lake Placid all those years ago.

He is also fiercely proud of his sport's return, after a 54-year hibernation, to the Olympic stage.

"The Olympics mean more to me than just that gold, and I can say that honestly now I have it.

"The medal is also for everyone who worked so hard to get skeleton into the Olympics."

Shea dominated both runs at the Utah Olympic Park, and began celebrating with the thrilled masses trackside before he had even come to a stop second time round.

One of the first to mob him was his father, Jim Sr, who represented the USA in nordic skiing at the 1960 Games.

The mantle of living up to the honour of their ancestor, arguably America's greatest winter Olympian, had been momentous.

In the thick snow above Park City, the emotional release was extraordinary.

In more ways than one, the skeleton slider had survived a real rollercoaster ride.


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