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Americans Sweep Olympic Medals in Skeleton - 2002-02-21

The sport of skeleton made its return to the Winter Olympics Wednesday after a 54-year absence, and the United States sliders sped their way to two gold medals and a silver.

In skeleton, the athletes lie on their stomachs, face-first on a flat sled with handles on the side. They use only their bodies, shifting weight to steer the sled through a 15-curve course that's run on the same icy chute as the luge and bobsled.

Jim Shea Jr., the first-ever third generation American Winter Olympian, sped to the gold medal in men's skeleton, averaging about 127 kilometers per hour through a steady snowfall here.

Shea was the leader after the first run by 0.13 over Austrian Martin Rettl. Rettl was faster in the second run, and Shea actually trailed him overall by 0.01 in three of the timed sections heading to the finish. But Shea made it up on the last segment of the course and his total for two runs was 0.05 of a second faster than Rettl, who got the silver medal. Switzerland's Gregor Staehli won the bronze.

Shortly after Jim Shea crossed the finish line, he removed his helmet and pulled out the funeral card of his grandfather, who died tragically last month in a car crash in Lake Placid, New York, where he was a speed skating gold medallist at the 1932 Olympics. Shea showed the photo card to the cameras and broke into a huge smile.

"I've gone through some real tough times," he said. "My family has gone through some real tough times as of late. It was very emotional, an emotional time for me, but I can honestly say now that I've won a gold medal that it's not the gold medal that's really important. The important part is taking part and the friendships."

After the race, Jim Shea Jr. went over and hugged his father, also a former Winter Olympian, who was able to witness his son's special day.

In women's skeleton, Americans finished one-two, with Tristan Gale capturing gold by 0.1 over teammate Lea Ann Parsley.

Gale, who at age 21 is 12 years younger than Parsley, had a hard time believing she was the Olympic champion in the first-ever women's skeleton event. "It's great being so young," she said. "I'm not as young as some figure skaters where they're so young they're just at the Olympics and they don't really feel the pressure. Maybe they do, I'm not quite sure. They just seem to handle it so well. I'm not quite old enough to have the maturity to deal with it either. I get stuck in this middle part where I understand I'm at the Olympics and that this is a huge deal."

And it is now that Tristan Gale has the gold medal. Silver medalist Lea Ann Parsley put it more in perspective. "It's been a great day, not as just individuals, but for USA skeleton," she said. "We're feeling pretty good. Two golds and a silver, so I don't think we could ask for more than that."

Winning the bronze in women's skeleton was Alex Coomber, which was Britain's first medal of these Olympics. "Coming across the finish line on the second run knowing that I'd gotten a medal was just absolutely amazing," she said. "I don't think I've ever experienced anything like that in my life. And for me personally the color didn't matter. I've come here and got a medal and that is just so precious and no one can ever take that away."

Once again, it's Olympic gold for the United States in both men's and women's skeleton.