A Lake Placid native, Jack Shea said the Olympic Oath at the Lake Placid 1932 Olympic Winter Games Opening Ceremony. Later that day, he won a gold medal in the 500-meter race and the following day he took gold in the 1,500-meter race as well. He was the first American to win multiple gold medals at a single Olympic Winter Games.
Four years later, Shea was positioned to add to his medal collection.
But with the 1936 Olympic Winter Games set to be held in Germany, Shea was approached by a rabbi in Lake Placid, which had a significant Jewish population. The rabbi asked Shea not to participate in the Olympics in Nazi Germany. Shea, who was Irish Catholic, agreed.
Instead, Shea continued his professional career, raising his family in Lake Placid, though he was still involved with the Olympic Movement.
Shea’s son, Jim, participated in the Innsbruck 1964 Olympic Winter Games as a cross-country skier. Jack Shea then played a leading role as a member of the 1980 Olympic Organizing Committee, helping land the Lake Placid 1980 Olympic Winter Games. Two decades later, his grandson, Jim Jr., qualified for the Salt Lake City 2002 Olympic Winter Games in skeleton – making the Sheas the first American family with three generations of Olympic athletes. Jack Shea took part in the Olympic Torch relay.
However, less than three weeks before Jim Shea Jr. made his Olympic debut, Jack Shea was killed in a car accident with a drunk driver. He was 91.
“He was an important father figure for this community,” Roby Politi, then-mayor of Lake Placid, said in a news release. “He was a kind of curator of the Olympic spirit that this community has been engulfed with over the years.”
It was an emotional moment when Jim Shea Jr. took to the track and made his run to win his own Olympic gold medal.
“My grandfather had some unfinished business here,” Jim Shea Jr. said afterward, holding his Jack Shea’s photo. “He can go up to heaven now.”