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Olympian donates medal money to Darfur children

As usual, the Winter Olympics were plagued by negative stories—skier Bode Miller’s failures highlighted a disappointing fortnight for the U.S. squad, speedskaters Chad Hendrick and Shani Davis spatted, and their was the inevitable doping scandal.

U.S. speedskater Joey Cheek, however, was a notable exception.

Cheek donated his bonuses—totaling $40,000, a significant sum for someone who competes in a sport that only gets attention once every four years—to Right to Play, a humanitarian organization founded and led by four-time speedskating gold medalist and doctor Johann Olav Koss.

The group describes itself as “an athlete-driven international humanitarian organization that uses sport and play as a tool for the development of children and youth in the most disadvantaged areas of the world.”

Some of that money will benefit the children of Darfur. Cheek’s generosity has led to more than $300,000 in matching donations; hopefully those sponsors will follow through on their pledges once the Olympic hoopla fades.

Cheek’s move came at a time that the international community started re-examining the problems in Darfur. Last week The Economist reported that President Bush talked about an increased United States and NATO involvement in the area.

While it’s doubtful that Cheek’s donation led to that move, hopefully it will keep the tragedy there at the forefront of the American consciousness. It’s too bad the deaths of 300,000 people in Africa aren’t a sexy news story.

Thankfully the American athletic delegation had the good sense to select Cheek to carry the flag in today’s closing ceremony.

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