Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Dec. 4. Below are some personal choices for that honor by SI writers.
11/20/2006 01:51:00 PM
My Sportsman: Joey Cheek
U.S. speedskater Joey Cheek donated the bonuses he received from his two Olympic medals in Turin to charity.
David E. Klutho/SI
By Brian Cazeneuve
In a sporting era of victory dances, hyperbolic egos and exaggerated entitlements, Joey Cheek used the flicker of individual glory to share his greatest moment with others. Hours after he won the 1,000-meter speedskating event at the Turin Olympics in February, Cheek told reporters he was committing not only his $25,000 bonus from the U.S. Olympic Committee for winning the gold medal to Right to Play, an athlete-driven relief organization to help the poor, but also his good name and energy to assist the needy.
Rather than recount the toil he spent over the past decade to become the best in the world at his craft, Cheek minimized his own achievements to speak about the opportunity his platform afforded him.
"I do a pretty ridiculous thing," he said in Turin. "I skate around in tights. But because I've skated well, I have a chance to bring exposure to bigger things I'd like to pursue."
Days later, Cheek won a silver medal in the 500 and donated another bonus. "The great news is this means $15,000 more for Right to Play," Cheek said. Challenged by Cheek to match his generosity, corporations kicked in an additional $500,000.
Right to Play is the brainchild of Norwegian speedskater Johann Olav Koss, who won three gold medals at the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. Koss has since traveled the globe to raise millions for education, immunization and various school, medical and sporting supplies to help the impoverished and disenfranchised in 20 of the world's poorest countries throughout Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
In April, Cheek traveled to Zambia as part of Right to Play's initiative to educate children and young women about AIDS, speaking and listening and playing games that raised awareness of how the disease is spread and ways it can be prevented.
"There was a time when I thought the most I'd be able to do was win races," Cheek said. Instead, by lifting others, Cheek has elevated his own status from great athlete to greater sportsman.