Monday, June 09, 2008

Perspective cover: An Olympian looks to Darfur

By Joey Cheek

I'd actually imagined what it would be like, which is terrible. You're never supposed to plan on winning.

But there I was, the gold medalist in the 500-meter speed skating event at the 2006 winter Olympics in Turin. And with the win came the right to 10 minutes, give or take, at a microphone in front of 60-odd cameras, tape recorders and sports reporters who were waiting to shout in my face: "How does it feel to win?" (It's a pretty short answer, actually: "Good.")

Except, I wanted to talk about something different. "I know you guys all want to do sweet stories about Hallmark and chocolates and butterflies and all that," I said, stepping to the microphone. "But I have a pretty unique experience and a pretty unique opportunity here. So I'm going to take advantage of it while I can."

And then I announced that I was going to donate my winnings from the U.S. Olympic Committee — $25,000 for that 500-meter victory and another $15,000 when I won the silver in the 1,000 meters a few days later — to Darfurian refugees in Chad.

Though I was just beginning to learn about the conflict in Darfur in February 2006, I knew that more than 60,000 children from Darfur had been displaced in the course of nearly three years of violence and that my donation to the Right to Play Foundation might help send them some small relief.

I also was just beginning to learn what it meant to be engaged with what's happening in Darfur — a deliberate campaign of atrocities that the U.S. government has called a genocide, launched by the regime in Khartoum and an allied militia known as the Janjaweed — and what it means to be on an international stage as an Olympian. Now, more than two years after I won my medals in Turin, I'm watching those issues collide as the world prepares for the Olympics in Beijing. Read more >>>>>>>>>>>>>

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