Originally created 02/08/02

Peterson to carry U.S. flag into opening ceremony; Shea to take oath

SALT LAKE CITY -- Amy Peterson has been to every Winter Olympics since 1988, when her event, short-track speedskating, was an exhibition sport.

This time, she'll be right at the front of the U.S. delegation.

Peterson, a three-time Olympic medal winner, was picked to carry the nation's flag into the opening ceremony Friday night.

Skeleton racer Jim Shea Jr., whose father and grandfather also were Olympians, was chosen to take the athlete's oath in the same secret-ballot vote of team captains Wednesday night.

His grandfather had the same honor at the 1932 Games in Lake Placid, N.Y., his hometown. The elder Shea died at age 91 last month after a car wreck.

"I consider it a tremendous honor," Shea said. "I am looking forward to reading the oath just like my grandfather did."

Peterson's teammates told her Tuesday they were going to nominate her to be flag bearer. She considered that enough of a reward.

"There are a lot of great athletes who come through the United States and I never thought that I would actually get picked," she said. "It's just the greatest honor."

The flag Peterson will carry into the parade of nations will not be the one recovered from the rubble of ground zero, although that treasured banner will be part of the ceremony.

The International Olympic Committee agreed Wednesday to allow the World Trade Center flag to be carried into the opening ceremony and be the official U.S. flag of the Winter Games.

"It's an honor anyway and I think to carry the flag in a situation like this, after Sept. 11, is an even greater honor," the 30-year-old Peterson said. "I am sure that it will be one of the most emotional experiences of my life."

Peterson, of Maplewood, Minn., made her Olympic debut at Calgary, before short-track speedskating gained medal status. She was in Albertville when it did and won silver in the relay. At Lillehammer in 1994, she won bronze in the relay and 500 meters.

She overcame chronic fatigue syndrome to make the 1998 team and finished fourth in the 1,000 meters. She's also an eight-time U.S. short-track champion.

In choosing Peterson, eight captains of American teams bypassed skier Picabo Street, who had lobbied for the honor over the past year, especially the last two days.

Street also wasn't picked Thursday to be among the eight U.S. athletes joining New York City firefighters and Port Authority police in bringing in the ground zero flag.

The athletes chosen for the honor guard are: Figure skater Todd Eldredge; ice hockey gold medalist Angela Ruggiero; Kristina Sabasteanski, a biathlete who serves in the military; skeleton racer Lea Ann Parsley, a firefighter in Ohio; curler Stacy Liapis; luger Mark Grimmette; speedskater Derek Parra; and snowboarder Chris Klug, who is back in the games after a liver transplant.

Shea is considered a favorite in the skeleton, an event returning to the Olympics for the first time since 1948.

But the main reason for his pre-games fame is his family. Grandfather Jack won two gold medals in 1932 and his father, Jim Shea Sr., competed in the Nordic combined and two cross-country ski races at the 1964 Innsbruck Games.

The three generations were featured in a TV commercial and, last week, he was among the guests seated in first lady Laura Bush's box as President Bush delivered his State of the Union address.

The last U.S. athlete to give the oath was speedskater Eric Heiden at the 1980 Lake Placid Games.

Shea's impromptu acceptance speech sounded almost like a self-styled oath.

"The Olympics are about the world coming together in a peaceful competition," he said. "The gold medals are great, but it's not what counts. What counts is that you try your hardest in fair play and follow the rules and represent your country with pride and honor."


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