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Crash claims gold-medal ‘patriarch’

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The death of the patriarch of the first family to produce three generations of Olympians may mean organizers of the 2002 Winter Games have to find someone else to light the caldron during opening ceremonies.

Jack Shea, 91, who won two gold medals in speedskating at the 1932 Winter Games in Lake Placid, N.Y., died from injuries suffered in a car accident near his home there on Monday.

His grandson, Jim Shea Jr., is a member of the U.S. Olympic skeleton team that will compete in Salt Lake. Jim Shea Sr. competed in the Nordic combined and two cross country ski races in the 1964 Winter Games in Innsbruck, Austria.

The trio were considered a strong possibility to participate in the lighting of the Olympic caldron during the Feb. 8 opening ceremonies at the University of Utah's Rice-Eccles Stadium, the Deseret News has learned.

The identity of the final torchbearer or torchbearers is one of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee's most closely guarded secrets. The decision was made last year by SLOC President Mitt Romney.

On Monday, organizers were forced to reveal the names of performers, including Sting, who will appear in the opening ceremonies after they were inadvertently announced during the Golden Globes awards show Sunday night.

Romney declined to comment Tuesday on who would light the caldron. Speculation has centered on members of the U.S. and Soviet men's hockey teams who competed in the "Miracle on Ice" game during the 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid.

Asked if he planned to honor Jack Shea during the 2002 Games, Romney said he hasn't "given that any thought at this point." He called it "a blow to the Olympic movement to lose the oldest living American gold medalist.

"Particularly when his grandson is getting ready to compete in the Games here. I'm sure that Jack would want Jimmy to continue his training and do the very best in the family tradition."

All three generations of the Shea family were in Utah earlier this month for the skeleton selection races for the 2002 team. Jack Shea told the Deseret News then that skeleton was an "unusual sport, there's so much danger to it and so much speed.

"But, you know, speed goes in the Shea family," Jack Shea, known as "Chief," said. "Skiing that my son did was speedy, and of course, in speedskating we start with speed. This is natural for the Sheas!"

The accident that resulted in Jack Shea's death occurred around 4:30 p.m. Monday under snowy, slippery conditions less than a mile from his home, The Associated Press reported. Troopers said a van slid out of control and struck his vehicle.

The driver of the van was treated for a cut lip and was arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated, speed not reasonable and prudent, failure to keep right and unsafe tires, the wire service reported.

E-mail: lisa@desnews.com