Monday, May. 08, 2006

Joey Cheek

Call me old-fashioned. Or just call me old (I'll be 41 this year). But my philosophy toward sports is a cliche: it isn't so much the result that makes me proud of an athlete or a performance; it's the effort. It's how an athlete handles wins and losses. It's attitude. And it's about understanding that being great at a sport doesn't make you a great person.

I am proud of Joey Cheek. Sure, I am proud of his accomplishments on the ice. He had a dream season this year, winning a world sprint championship and two Olympic medals, a gold in the 500 m and a silver in the 1,000 m in Torino. I am proud that he won these medals in my sport of speedskating. But what Cheek did upon winning his Olympic medals is what makes me most proud.

Cheek, 26, donated his $40,000 in bonus money ($25,000 for gold and $15,000 for silver) to an organization called Right to Play, which helps kids in the war-torn, poverty-stricken countries in Africa. Corporate-matched donations have multiplied that into hundreds of thousands of dollars. So many sports figures dominate the headlines for the wrong reasons. Many parents have been waiting for a worthy role model their kids can look up to. Need we look further?

The 1,000-m Olympic gold medalist in '94, Jansen has held eight speedskating world records