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US Skater to Donate Bonus Money to Africans


Olympic gold medal winners are required to meet with the press in formal news conferences after their events. Typically they are asked about how they won, how they feel and about their backgrounds. But American long track speedskater Joey Cheek, who won the men's 500 meters Monday night, had something else in mind.

Before anyone could ask American speedskater Joey Cheek a question, he decided to set the tone for his post-victory news conference in the men's 500 meters.

"I have a pretty unique experience and pretty unique opportunity here, so I am going to take advantage of it while I can," he said.

And with that, Cheek announced that since he has been blessed with the support of many to compete in two Olympics, he wanted to give something back. "The best way I can say thanks is to try to help somebody else," he said.

Cheek said he would donate to charity the entire $25,000 in bonus money that the U.S. Olympic Committee pays to gold medal winners. Cheek said the money will go an organization called Right to Play, a group of former Olympic, Paralympic and professional athletes worldwide who support using sport for development, health and peace.

Cheek, 26, said he got his inspiration from Norwegian Johan Olav Koss, who won three speedskating gold medals at the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics. Koss donated his bonus money to a charity he started called Olympic Aid. Its now known as Right to Play.

Cheek met with Koss here in Turin the morning before his race and told him he wanted to help if he was fortunate enough to earn some bonus money for winning an Olympic medal. Now I have an opportunity to do something similar. It's my hope that I can assist some people and maybe walk in his large shoes," he said.

Cheek has earmarked his $25,000 bonus money to a program to help thousands of Sudanese children who are refugees in Chad.

And Cheek plans to visit the African nation when he is told it is safe to do so. "It is my hope, as soon as it's become a little more stable, we can go in. I believe in two of the refugee villages, they have Right to Play camps set up and coaches in there who are helping with health awareness and with games and with playing," he said.

Cheek offered an invitation to those at his news conference. "If anyone wants to go to Africa with me in a couple months, I'll be happy to take any journalist interested in going, on their own dime of course," he said.

Cheek added that he is asking Olympic sponsors to match his donation to a Right to Play project.

And he hopes to add to what he has already pledged. Cheek will race in speedskating's 1,000 meters on Saturday. He is one of the favorites and says if he wins another medal, that bonus money will also be donated to Right to Play.