LAKE PLACID, N.Y., Jan. 30 -- Skeleton athlete Jim Shea Jr., a third-generation Winter Olympian, bared his emotions as he prepared for, and competed in, the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. He grieved openly after the death of his grandfather just 18 days before the Opening Ceremonies. A month later, he virtually exploded with joy after winning a gold medal with a photo of his grandfather tucked in his helmet.
So it should not be surprising that Shea is bubbling with strong feelings again.
Jim Shea Jr passed up a chance to compete on last year's World Cup circuit because of his disdain for the USOC.
(John McDonnell - The Washington Post)
_____ 2004 Summer Olympics _____
• Look back at the Athens Games, highlighted by Michael Phelps's eight medals and marked by unfounded worries over terrorism.
Only this time, he is outraged.
Trying to get his career back on track at a low-profile meet here this weekend, Shea excoriated the U.S. Olympic Committee for failing to provide him with a single dollar in funds since he collected his $25,000 bonus for winning an Olympic gold medal just under three years ago.
Shea said the USOC's name was "mud" among some athletes and that his anger over the funding cut drove him out of the sport last fall, even though he earned a spot on the prestigious World Cup circuit with a top finish at the U.S. trials. He turned it down.
"The USOC is a very frugal organization," said Shea, who finished third Saturday and fifth Sunday in the America's Cup races at the Verizon Sports Complex. "They've been very difficult from the start. . . . When they stopped supporting me, that was the last straw."
According to USOC Director of Sports Partnerships Steve Roush, Shea essentially has fallen victim to the performance-based funding system that rewarded him heavily leading up to Salt Lake City. From the fall of 1999 until the spring of 2002, Shea received a total of $78,000 from the USOC, Roush said. The money stopped flowing, Roush said, when Shea stopped winning.
Shea, who had leg surgery a few months after the Games, took time off to recover, thereby losing his international standing.
"He continues to be a great Olympic champion," Roush said. "We would be glad to continue sending checks to Jim Shea. But we have to do it for the [athletes] who are living up to our performance standards.
"Are you going to invest in somebody who did it in the past when you're not sure they're going to do it in the future, or do you set objective criteria that everyone, regardless of past, needs to hit?
"Is it a little cold, a little harsh, looking at performance evaluation?" Roush also said. "If there is no international criteria, it's really hard . . . to evaluate where our dollars should go."
Shea's dissatisfaction with the bottom-line funding approach that the USOC says is most fair for all of its athletes illuminates a potential problem with the six-year-old system. Designed to eliminate wasted spending by putting money directly in the pockets of the most deserving U.S. athletes, it can be confusing and frustrating to those who lose their funding after just one substandard season.
Tristan Gale, who won a gold medal in women's skeleton in Salt Lake, said she, too, saw her USOC stipend and health insurance disappear nearly as soon as she faltered. After winning a bronze medal at the 2003 world championships, Gale had technical problems with her sled and finished ninth the next season. Like Shea, she barely missed the funding cut-off for 2004-05. Three skeleton athletes who posted better international results than Gale and Shea received all of the funds.
"I'm kind of frustrated by that," said Gale, who finished first in the women's race here Saturday and third Sunday. "People have no problem giving you money when you are on top, but when you're fighting to get there, there is nothing available. That's the time you need it the most."