Shea's 1932 golden skates back in familyPosted: Sunday February 24, 2002 9:46 PM
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The leather cracked and faded, but the blades still gleaming, the skates that Jack Shea rode to two gold medals 70 years ago were returned to his son and grandson Sunday, ending an extraordinary journey.
"I'm overwhelmed," said Jimmy Shea, a third-generation Olympian who became the family's second gold medalist by winning the skeleton at these Winter Olympics.
Jack Shea last saw his skates after winning two speed skating golds at the Lake Placid Games in 1932 when he swapped them with Japanese skier Yamada Katsumi for Nordic skis.
Almost a half-century ago, Katsumi passed the skates along to a young friend who was a speed skater.
That youngster's name was Kozo Yoshida. Now 62 and a horse breeder in Hokkaido, Japan, Yoshida decided to return the skates to the Shea family after learning that Jack died in a car crash last month. He was 91.
Yoshida called the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper in Japan, and the newspaper arranged for a flight attendant to hand-deliver the skates from Tokyo to Salt Lake City.
Yomiuri Shimbun executive Kazuhiro Takaoka presented the skates to Jimmy and his father, Jim, an Olympic cross-country skier in 1964.
"Hey, look, it's Jack's signature," Jimmy said, examining a scratched but still-solid plate on one of the skates.
He said Yoshida's gesture is indicative of the Olympic spirit.
"Today I was showed some extreme greatness and kindness," he said. "The Olympics are not about the gold, not about the politics, but about the friendships."
Completing the circle, Jimmy gave Takaoka a runner from his gold medal-winning sled to be presented to Yoshida.
The saga of the skates -- which Yoshida wore in three inter-high school championships and was still using occasionally - allowed Jim Shea to understand why his father was so protective of the old skis stored in the basement rafters of the family home in Lake Placid.
Jim said he and his brothers were in the basement once trying to make a sled when they asked if they could strap on those skis.
"My father said, `No, you can't use those skis, they're a special token to me.' That was all he said about them," Jim said. "I wished I'd have known about them."
He wrinkled his forehead in thought and said, "They may still be in the basement."
Katsumi died in the mid 1960s, a decade after he gave Yoshida the skates.
Yoshida said the skates were rusty and slightly large for him, but he polished them and added stuffing to make them fit.
"Back in my days, most of the skaters used Dutch- or Japanese-made skates. Jack's were Spalding, a very rare American-made brand, so I was famous among the skaters," Yoshida said.
Yoshida sent Jim and Jimmy Shea a letter along with the skates, expressing his sympathy for Jack's death and containing a wish: "As for Jimmy, a third-generation Olympian, I would like to see your son and your grandson as a fourth- and fifth-generation taking part in the games."
That won't happen on Jack's skates, which the Sheas will place in the Lake Placid Olympic Museum.
Otherwise, Jim said, "I have an 8-year-old grandson I know would be trying to wear them."