Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A giving gold medalist

You watch the Olympics. You see the athletes excel in their sport. You hear them talk about how it was their lifelong dream, even though they may be only 17 years old, to win Olympic gold. You become very cynical. You think, how profoundly selfish of them - they only care about the supposed glory of it all.

And then you hear about a gold-winning athlete doing something like this.
Joey Cheek was 14 years old and sitting on his living room floor, his eyes glued to the TV broadcast of the 1994 Winter Olympics, when his life's mission became clear. Norway's famed speedskater Johann Olav Koss was shattering one world record after another en route to winning three gold medals at the Lillehammer Games, and Cheek, a top junior in-line skater at the time, turned to his mother and said, " That's what I want to do next."

Monday at the Turin Olympics, Cheek fulfilled his dream of following in Koss's vaunted steps in more ways than one. The North Carolina native blistered the slow, sticky ice at the Lingotto Oval to win gold in the 500-meter speedskating event. Then, he held reporters' questions at bay at the start of his post-race news conference to announce that he was taking another cue from his idol and donating the $25,000 he would receive from the U.S. Olympic Committee for having won gold to the charitable organization Koss now oversees, Right to Play, which uses sports and games as a tool for helping children in the most needy corners of the world.

Cheek said his donation would be earmarked specifically for children of the Darfur region in Sudan, where roughly 60,000 youngsters have been displaced, and he called on corporate sponsors of the Olympic Games to match his contribution.

"For me, the Olympics has been the greatest blessing," said Cheek, 26, who also won bronze in the 1,000 at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. "If I retired yesterday, I'd have gotten everything in the world from speedskating and from competing in the Olympics. So for me, to walk away today with the gold medal is just amazing. And the best way I can say thanks that I can think of is to try and help somebody else." (WaPo)

Well done, Joey.

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