Shea's victory source of pride to family, country

Wednesday, February 20, 2002

AP Sports WriterSALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Jim Shea can celebrate more than being part of a historic Olympic family. Now he's an Olympic champion, just like his grandfather.

Shea became the first third-generation Olympian simply by sliding face-first down the bobsled chute on his skeleton Wednesday, then capped it by winning the gold medal in his sport's return to the Winter Games after a 54-year absence.

When his run ended, Shea jumped off his sled and pulled from his helmet a picture of his grandfather, Jack, who won two golds at the 1932 Games in his hometown of Lake Placid, N.Y. His father, Jim Sr., who competed in three cross-country events at the 1964 Innsbruck Games, was in the stands and wiped tears from his eyes.

The two Sheas were among the last to carry the Olympic torch before the cauldron was lit during the opening ceremony. Jack Shea was supposed to join them, but died last month in a traffic accident.

"Jack's spirit lives on," read a sign waved at the start line.

Shea led after the first round and got off to a great start on the second. He was .01 second behind the pace of Austrian air-traffic controller Martin Rettl for the middle part of the run, then closed fast to catch him by .05. Switzerland's Gregor Staehli was third.

Shea's gold is the seventh by Americans, setting yet another team record on snow and ice. It's the 22nd overall medal, two more than the once-ridiculed goal set last year by the U.S. Olympic Committee and nine more than the previous best.

The U.S. women's skeleton team could help boost the totals as Tristan Gale and Lea Ann Parsley were 1-2 after the first of two runs.

The nice start to a snowy Wednesday follows what arguably was the greatest day for Americans at these games: Three medals, two gold, plus impressive gold-seeking performances by the U.S. women's hockey team and figure skater Michelle Kwan.

Vonetta Flowers became the first black athlete ever to win a gold medal at a Winter Games when she and Jill Bakken won the inaugural women's bobsled event Tuesday. Their dramatic victory also ended the United States' 46-year medal drought in the sport.

"Hopefully this will encourage other African-American boys and girls to give winter sports a try," said Flowers, a 28-year-old former college track star from Birmingham, Ala.

Speedskater Derek Parra won gold and set a world record in the 1,500 meters and skier Joe Pack's silver in freestyle aerials.

Other medals available Wednesday included the men's biathlon relay, women's slalom, women's 1,500-meter speedskating, men's 1,500-meter short-track speedskating and women's short-track relay.

The men's hockey tournament also heated up with quarterfinals, curling moved into the semifinals and the figure skaters yielded the ice for an exhibition.

-- WOMEN'S BOBSLED: Despite all the focus on the USA-1 tandem of "Mean" Jean Racine and Gea Johnson, USA-2 that stole the show.

A record start led to a victory over two German squads that had won every World Cup race of the 2001-02 season. USA-1 wound up fifth, undone in part by Johnson's hamstring injury.

"It's amazing," Bakken said.

Flowers, whose track career was ruined by two knee operations and ankle surgery, only joined the sport in December.

"I have truly been blessed," she said.

The United States had not won an Olympic bobsled medal since Arthur Tyler took the four-man bronze in 1956 in Cortina, Italy, and had not won gold since his brother, Francis, took the four-man in 1948 at St. Moritz.

-- FIGURE SKATING: Kwan was so relaxed, it looked like she was going through another practice on the ice where she'd been training for a week.

Only this time, it was the real deal. And she nailed it.

Kwan, a four-time world champion and six-time U.S. title winner, edged Russian rival Irina Slutskaya to win the short program, which counts for one-third of the overall score. The rest comes in the free skate Thursday.

"I am well prepared, in good shape, healthy," said Kwan, who won a silver medal four years ago and regretted not spending more time in Nagano, a mistake she avoided here. "What I have done, no regrets. Just go out and have fun."

American Sasha Cohen was third and teammate Sarah Hughes fourth.

-- AERIALS: Eric Bergoust knew his last jump would be memorable and it was.

Bergoust, the reigning gold medalist, went for a spectacular finish and landed on his back, dropping him from first to last.

"I'm glad I didn't go out there and go conservative and finish fourth," he said. "I wanted to get the gold or last, and I got last."

The gold went to Ales Valenta of the Czech Republic, while Pack, who grew up in Park City, used the energy from his hometown crowd to pull out a silver medal. Alexei Grichin of Belarus won bronze.

-- WOMEN'S HOCKEY: They could've saved the preliminaries and jumped straight to the finals.

As expected, the United States will play Canada for gold on Thursday. The Americans beat Sweden 4-0 and the Canadians beat Finland 7-3 in semifinals Tuesday.

In consolation games, Russia beat Germany 5-0 for fifth place and China beat Kazakstan 2-1 in overtime for seventh.

-- WOMEN'S CURLING: Britain earned a spot in the women's semifinals against once-beaten Canada by eliminating Sweden, then Germany in a tiebreaker. The United States plays Switzerland in Wednesday's other semifinal.

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