SALT LAKE CITY – Grandpa went along for the ride. And what a ride! Dad was there to watch, too.
With his grandfather's funeral card tucked inside his helmet, Jimmy Shea won the gold medal in skeleton Wednesday, finishing the two runs at Utah Olympic Park in 1 minute, 41.96 seconds.
The victory was the culmination of an emotional two months for Shea, whose 91-year-old grandfather, Jack, died Jan. 22. Jack Shea was the first double gold medalist in the Winter Olympics, winning two speedskating events at the 1932 Lake Placid Games, and was America's oldest living Winter Olympian.
"My grandpa was with me the whole way," Shea said.
His father, Jim Sr., competed in three cross-country events at the 1964 Innsbruck Games, making the Sheas the first three-generation family of Winter Olympians.
He watched with tears in his eyes as his son beat defending world champion Martin Rettl of Austria, who won the silver in 1:42.01. World Cup champion Gregor Staehli of Switzerland, the 1994 world champion who came out of retirement to compete, won the bronze in 1:42.15.
Shea's gold-medal performance was the first of the day for the Americans in a sport that sends competitors headfirst down the ice at about 80 mph on a sled that looks like a large lunch tray.
Tristan Gale, her hair streaked red, white and blue, won a gold medal by one-tenth of a second over teammate Lea Ann Parsley as skeleton made its first appearance in the Winter Olympics since 1948 and only its third ever. Alex Coomber of Britain won the bronze.
The final moments of Shea's second run were breathtaking. He trailed Rettl by .01 of a second and seemed destined for silver as he neared the finish. Somehow, on the final turn he gained time and slid across as the winner.
His sled, airbrushed with the American flag, slowed, but Shea couldn't wait. He was so excited he fell off. He then pulled out his grandfather's card and waved it as fans chanted "U-S-Shea! U-S-Shea!" He stared at the clock just to make sure as Rettl and Ireland's Clifton Wrottesley hugged him.
"I told him, 'Live the dream,' " said Wrottesley, who finished fourth, narrowly missing his country's first Winter Olympics medal. "I think it's a fitting tribute to Jack. I'm sure he's up there with my dad doing cartwheels in the sky."
Back home in Lake Placid, the crowd at the Great Adirondack Steak and Seafood restaurant shouted with joy, waved American flags and chanted, "Go, Jimmy! Go, Jimmy!" when it got word that Shea had won.
"Isn't that wonderful?" said a jubilant Joan Kane, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Ed. The couple's son is married to Shea's sister.
"I really think that his grandpa was right on that sled with him."
Shea's triumph seemed predestined. A steady snow was falling, which meant that those sliding later in the first run would be slower.
Staehli, who won all but one of the five races in the recently completed World Cup season, slid first. But when he finished in 51.16 seconds, the opportunity was there.
Rettl was next, and he zoomed into first place in 51.02. After Duff Gibson of Canada went down in 51.40, the track was slower as Shea came to the line for the first time.
If an injury to his left leg was bothering him, it wasn't evident. At the start house, feeling the energy of the moment, Shea jumped up and down and ran in place. Fans roared their encouragement, holding signs aloft that read "Go Jimmy."
"I just tried to concentrate on the basics," Shea said. "There's so much going on. There were 15,000 screaming people. I was just having a blast."
And then he did it. After a furious start, with his eyes wide open and his helmet briefly scraping the ice, he sped along in his skintight racing suit.
Even the snow couldn't slow him down. The eagle painted on the front of his helmet seemed to be guiding the way through the big flakes as Shea negotiated the tricky 16-turn course.
He finished the first run in 50.89, holding a lead over Rettl that he wouldn't relinquish.
Another American, Lincoln Dewitt of Park City, rallied for fifth in 1:42.83 after a bad first run. Chris Soule of Trumbull, Conn., was seventh in 1:42.08.
Shea was thrilled when he qualified for the U.S. team in December, and so were his father and grandfather. The three were featured in national TV commercials and publications.
But just when the family was preparing to go to Salt Lake City together last month, Jack Shea died after a car accident just a few blocks from his Lake Placid, N.Y., home.
Jimmy Shea's popularity has since soared. He was a guest of President Bush at the State of the Union Address and was selected by teammates to recite the Olympic oath at the opening ceremony -- just as his grandfather had done 70 years ago.
Shea's success on the tracks of Europe was a driving force to get the sport added for 2002.
He stunned the world of skeleton in 1999 by winning the World Championships in Altenberg, Germany. And when he returned home, Shea presented the trophy to Mitt Romney, president of the Salt Lake City Organizing Committee. Romney didn't know the first thing about the sport but soon pushed to get it included in the Winter Olympics.