SALT LAKE CITY — Add one more goose bump to the story of gold medalist Jim Shea, already among the most heartwarming and inspiring of these Olympic Games.
Shea is the Lake Placid, N.Y., slider who won the gold medal in skeleton Wednesday, carrying a funeral card of his grandfather in his helmet as he sped down the course. His grandfather, Jack, had won two gold medals in speedskating in the 1932 Olympics at Lake Placid and his father, James, was also an Olympian, competing in Nordic skiing in the '64 Games in Innsbruck.
Even before the Games began, before Jim slid to his skeleton gold, the story line was in place: three generations of Olympians in Salt Lake, grandfather and father watching Jim go for the gold.
But three weeks before the Games were to begin, Jack Shea, 91, died after suffering injuries in a car crash. So the story took another twist.
And Sunday, yet another.
Jim and James were summoned to the main press center here, where the managing editor of the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun presented them with a gift so special that, when James saw it, tears welled in his eyes.
The newspaper had recently been contacted by a man named Kozo Yoshida. Yoshida, 62, had read accounts of Jack Shea's death and how it cost him an opportunity to watch his grandson compete in the Olympics. Yoshida also remembered that a pair of speedskates he had used for years, and was still using occasionally, had been given to him by a man who said they had been a gift from an American named Jack Shea.
Yoshida was a young speedskating enthusiast. His father worked at city hall in Sapporo, where the '72 Winter Olympics were held. A co-worker, Katsumi Yamada, who had been in the Nordic combined in the same Lake Placid Olympics in which Jack Shea competed, heard that young Yoshida was a speedskater and gave a pair of skates to his father for his son's use. He told the elder Yoshida that the skates had been the gift of an American, Jack Shea, from the '32 Olympics, and that, in return, he had given Shea a pair of his cross-country skis.
Young Yoshida was told the story of where the skates came from, then used them the rest of his life, including as recently as just months ago.
"With these skates," Yoshida said, in a recent story in the Japanese media, "I have competed in the Japanese inter-high school championships for three straight years."
He said that he was famous among his friends because his skates were an American brand, Spalding, and he got a lot of attention from other skaters because of that.
When Jack Shea died after the car crash, Yoshida heard the story on the news, and the story of his grandson. So he contacted the Japanese newspaper and said he wanted the Sheas to have the skates back.
The Sheas, despite knowing why they were there when they arrived for the presentation Sunday, were still unprepared for this new emotional wrinkle.
The box was opened and the skates handed to them, as a dozen photographers clicked away. And it was quickly pointed out to them what was written on the bottom of one skate.
"It's my dad's signature, see right there," said James Shea, about to break down. "This is unbelievable. I'm not sure I really believed it until I saw that."
The memories flooded back.
"Years ago when I was a kid, I was in the basement of our house and a couple of us were looking for wood to bust up and make into a sled," James Shea said. "And my dad came down and he said to not touch those [skis], that they were special. But he never said why."
Jim Shea also was clearly taken by the moment.
"This is what the Olympics are all about," he said. "My grandfather loved the friendships. He loved to do nice things for the other athletes. Today, we've been shown great kindness. I'm overwhelmed."
James Shea said he expected that the skis that were traded for the skates are still hanging in a basement in Lake Placid, but he and his son didn't wait to look for them to make a return gift.
So they unwrapped the gift to be sent off to Kozo Yoshida, Hayakita Town, Japan, who felt the Olympic spirit an ocean and thousands of miles away and did something because of it.
Sometime soon, he will be receiving one of the two rails from the skeleton used by Jim Shea on Feb. 20, 2002, to win an Olympic gold medal.