Tuesday, 14 February 2006

Golden Medal; Golden Heart

Joey Cheek won a gold medal for the US in speed skating yesterday. But it was his announcement at a press conference that was truly golden:
Cheek announced that he would donate the $25,000 bonus the United States Olympic Committee gives to gold-medal winners to Right to Play, a charity organization founded by former Norwegian Olympic speedskating champion Johann Olav Koss to help disadvantaged children around the world.

"I have a pretty unique opportunity here, so I'm going to take advantage of it while I can," Cheek said at his post-race news conference. "I have been blessed by competing in the Olympics in speedskating. ... I always felt if I ever did something big like this, I wanted to be prepared to give something back."

Cheek chose to give his money specifically to help in Chad, where he said there are 60,000 children who have been displaced from their homes. [refugees from the violence in Darfur] I'll take his word for it, since this is something he has been researching. He met with Koss and looked into the financial structure of the organization to be sure it wasn't one of those charities with top-heavy administrative costs that eat up the donations.

"It's Right to Play" Cheek said. The organization's mission is "To improve the lives of children in the most disadvantaged areas of the world by using the power of sport and play for development, health and peace."

Half an hour before we heard from Cheek, 2002 gold medalist and Monday's 10th-place finisher Casey FitzRandolph said, "You've got certain guys that you root for, and Joey's one of them. I root for guys not because of what country they're from so much as what type of people they are."
But I also like this quote from the Yahoo account of the story:
"I don't know how I skated that fast," Cheek said. "At some level, it's empowering to think about someone other than yourself. It's right that I help some people get the chance that I have had.

"We athletes are superstitious, goofy people," Cheek said. "It's kind of absurd. I've trained my whole life for this but I am skating around in a skintight suit. It's a little ridiculous.

"I can take the time to sit up here and gush or I can do something worthwhile."

The humanitarian crisis in Darfur has claimed between 180,000 and 300,000 lives, and displaced more than two million people.

Cheek's role model is former Norwegian speedskater Johan-Olaf Koss, who made a similar contribution in 1994 when the program was called Olympic Aid.

"The things he has done for other people have been an inspiration for me," Cheek said. "It's my hope that I can assist some people and walk in his large shoes."

Cheek had the plan in mind after meeting with Right to Play leaders in the Olympic Village this week.

"I have been kind of plotting this in my head. I wanted to be prepared if the stars aligned," Cheek said. "They have got a great program and they have done a lot of good."

Cheek said he plans to visit Darfur in a couple of months and might petition the US State Department to allow more US funds for relief work.
Perhaps an athlete can partially restore America's good name which our leaders have been working so hard to throw away.


lauren said...

It's heartening to hear a story of a professional athlete truly embodying the spirit of the Olympics. Thanks for this inspiring nugget.

lauren said...

Duh - I just reread my comment. It would be pretty hard for a "professional athlete" to embody the spirit of the Olympics. Strike the word "professional" and my comment stands! Time for more coffee...

Hal Halladay said...

Lauren >> Actually in todays Olympics, many athletes do make their living in their sport. It is even more heroic to see an athlete that doesn't make a lot of money from his sport, give what money he does make to such a worthy cause.

Walker >> I have looked for the transcript to the press conference but to no avail. All I have found are the news reports and comments from bloggers.

Vaughn Amerling said...

Watched Joey Cheek win a silver last night. The only Olympics I've seen so far. What's up with Shani Davis? I don't know much of his story but he appears to be carrying a rather large chip on his shoulder. Well, best of luck to all of them.

Walker said...

Shani Davis' post performance interview was rather odd. I suppose he was preoccupied with something else.

Found this nice angle on the Joey Cheek story, even though it doesn't have the full text of his comments.