U.S. Gold Medalist Donates Award to Darfur Refugees American speed skater Joey Cheek did something very unusual after winning the 500 meter race at the Winter Olympics. He announced he's contributing his $25,000 gold medal award from the U.S. Olympic Committee to refugees from Darfur.
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U.S. Gold Medalist Donates Award to Darfur Refugees

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U.S. Gold Medalist Donates Award to Darfur Refugees

U.S. Gold Medalist Donates Award to Darfur Refugees

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

The United States has won a second Olympic Gold Medal in speed skating. Last night at the Turin Winter Games, Joey Cheek won the men's 500 meter race. He beat his nearest rival by more than half a second. That's a huge margin in a sprint event normally decided by hundreds of a second. Joey Cheek has been racing like this for the past couple of months, so his victory wasn't a surprise. What he did after the race was.

(Soundbite of applause and cheering)

TOM GOLDMAN reporting:

Joey Cheek crossed the finish line a winner, and the usual scenes of Olympic victory started to unfold. Up in the stands at the speed skating venue, Cheek's agent, Patrick Quinn, grabbed his cellphone and called the talent booker for NBC's Tonight Show.

Mr. PATRICK QUINN (Sports Agent): Hey, Steve, it's Patrick Quinn calling. Pretty good. You got any time for America's newest gold medalist?

GOLDMAN: Cheek's mother, Chris, ran down from her seat to get closer to the ice. Joey waved and mouthed, I love you. Chris was ecstatic.

Ms. CHRIS CHEEK: (Mother of Joey Cheek): This is absolutely amazing. All those years watching him go around in circles.

GOLDMAN: It was 16 years, in fact, from the time Joey Cheek started roller skating at the age of 10, to last night when he became an Olympic champion. It was one of those facts reporters scribbled down as they headed for the post-race press conference, composing in their minds a story about another Olympic dream come true. But then, the press conference began, and Cheek effective told everyone, start rewriting.

Mr. JOEY CHEEK (Olympic Gold Medalist, Speed Skating): I know you guys all want to do sweet stories about Hallmark and chocolates and butterflies and all that, but I have a pretty unique experience, and pretty unique opportunity here, so I'm going to take advantage of it while I can.

GOLDMAN: And so, Joey Cheek started talking about death in Africa.

Mr. CHEEK: In the Dafur region of Sudan, there has been tens and tens of thousands of people killed. My government has labeled it a genocide. And so, I will be donating money specifically to a program to help refugees in Chad, where there is over 60,000 children who have been displaced from their homes.

The money Cheek will donate is the $25,000 he gets from the U.S. Olympic Committee for winning a gold medal, money he certainly could use. Speed skaters are not rich athletes. He says he'll give the money to a charitable organization started by former Olympic champion speed skater Johann Olav Koss. When Cheek was younger, he was inspired to try speed skating after watching Koss dominate the 1994 Winter Games. Cheek says he also connected with Koss' off the ice mission to help people.

Mr. CHEEK: I think on some level, it is empowering to think of someone other than yourself. What I do is great fun. I love what I do, but it's honestly a pretty ridiculous thing. I mean, I skate around on ice in tights, right? So, but because I skated well, and because I now have a few seconds of microphone time, I have the ability to hopefully raise some awareness and raise some money and maybe, God willing, put some kids on a path that I've been blessed with.

GOLDMAN: Cheek says he'd been planning to make a public appeal at the Olympics, but it wasn't easy. He worried about the added pressure to win.

Mr. CHEEK: I went back and forth many times saying, you know, I don't want to jinx myself. I'm going to give it my best shot. I can help out no matter what. But if I do well, then I want to have the opportunity to do this. So, I was prepared for the best, and if the worse had happened, I was prepared for that, as well.

GOLDMAN: Joey Cheek says he'll donate any other victory money he might make during the games. And he says he plans to ask Olympic sponsors to match his donations. A few hours after Cheek's victory last night, at least one sponsor responded. Nike says it will donate $30,000 in product to whatever program Joey Cheek wants.

Tom Goldman, NPR News, Turin.

MONTAGNE: For a behind the scenes look at the Winter Games, check our Turin Olympics Diary at NPR.org.

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