Tonight I was really struck by a story on ESPN.com about America speed skater Joey Cheek. He won a gold medal this week for winning the 500m race, but he his honored in this article for his pledge to donate his $25,000 prize to refugees in Darfur. He even put his sponsors on the spot, calling on them to double or beat his pledge. This isn’t just a guy trying to draw attention to himself through a goodwill gesture. Cheek comes from a family of volunteers; he himself works with the Special Olympics.
The writer points out the fact that Cheek is largely overshadowed in these Games by name brands like Apollo Ono, Bode Miller, and Michelle Kwan. They all get big paychecks from sponsors, but all have yet to win in Torino. NBC has spent hours following Shawn White, an awkward snowboarder who hoped his gold medal would help him get “babes”. And yet I doubt Cheek’s race will get only a couple minutes worth of TV coverage tonight. I am not calling into question the talent or character of these other athletes, but I agree with ESPN’s Eric Adelson that Joey Cheek is the type of athlete I would like to see more of. It’s refreshing to see selflessness in the Olympics, a competition that celebrates individual accomplishment.
Update: I found out that Cheek actually donated his money to a charity that helps promote sports in third world countries, still a good cause. Cheek also got to carry the flag into the closing ceremonies and emerged as one of the few good stories of the Games.