Jimmy Shea, who slid to the Olympic gold medal in skeleton at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olymipics, announced his retirement Sunday night after failing to make the four-man U.S. team for the upcoming World Cup season.

Shea, 37, finished well behind Eric Bernotas, Zach Lund, Caleb Smith, and Kevin Ellis in a four-run raceoff conducted over the past two weekends in Lake Placid and Calgary, Canada. The team was announced Monday.

Former World Cup champion Chris Soule just missed making the team but can be added throughout the season if any team member fails to have a top-12 finish on any track.

Shea began a steady slide soon after his stunning Olympic triumph. Nine months later, he underwent a six-hour operation to restore the blood flow in his left leg and did not compete for a year. He returned to the ice in 2003-04 and finished eighth overall in World Cup, then chose not to compete in World Cup last season.

Shea’s rise in skeleton was meteoric. He caught the attention of the International Olympic Committee after his stunning victory at the 1999 Skeleton World Championships in Altenberg, Germany, the only American slider to accomplish that feat. When he returned home, he presented the trophy to Salt Lake City Organizing Committee President Mitt Romney, who didn’t know the first thing about the sport but soon pushed to have it included in the 2002 Games.

A solid World Cup performance in December 2001 on Shea’s home track at Mount Van Hoevenberg outside Lake Placid earned him a spot on the U.S. Olympic team and put a huge smile on his 91-year-old grandfather’s face.

Jack Shea had won two speedskating gold medals at the 1932 Lake Placid Winter Olympics, Jimmy’s dad had competed in cross-country skiing in 1964 at Innsbruck, and Jimmy’s performance made the Sheas the first family with three generations of Winter Olympians.

Tragically, Jack Shea died less than three weeks before the 2002 Winter Olympics from injuries suffered in a car accident. Undeterred and with a picture of his grandfather tucked inside his helmet, Jimmy slid to the gold, rallying on the final two turns of his final run to produce a triumph for the ages.

The afterglow was sweet but tinged with bitterness. Shea said one of the reasons he passed up a chance to compete in World Cup last season was because of USOC policy that allots money to athletes who excel in the present.

While Shea was away, Bernotas and Lund emerged as the men to beat for a spot on the Olympic team.

Three-time national champion Katie Uhlaender, of Breckenridge, Colo., will lead the U.S. women’s squad. Joining her are Katie Koczynski, of Nyack, N.Y., and newcomer Lyndsie Peterson, of Taylorsville, Utah, who secured a spot when she won Sunday’s final race of the team trials. Lea Ann Parsley, of Granville, Ohio, silver medalist at Salt Lake City, just missed making the team but can be added by the coaches throughout the season.

The final spot on the women’s team was awarded to defending World Cup champion Noelle Pikus-Pace, of Orem, Utah. Pikus-Pace, who is recovering from a compound fracture in her right leg, was added as a discretionary pick. She suffered the injury when she was accidentally hit last Wednesday by a four-man bobsled on the track at Calgary Olympic Park.

Pikus-Pace, 22, is hoping to compete in the second half of the World Cup season and take a shot at Turin. Until she is able to return to her spot on the World Cup roster, the coaches have chosen defending Olympic gold medalist Tristan Gale, of Salt Lake City, to race in her place.

AP-ES-10-24-05 2247EDT

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