Born: June 22, 1979 - Greensboro, North Carolina (NOR)
Present day media entrepreneur and philanthropist Joey Cheek was still in his early teens when he saw speed skaters Johan Olav Koss and Dan Jansen win gold medals at the 1994 Olympics. Very much impressed by their performances he said: “Mom, I want to be an ice skater!”. And with support from his parents, that’s exactly what he became. Twelve years later Cheek followed in the footsteps of his childhood heroes, and won the 500 meters at the Games in Torino. It was the high point of successful career that not only earned him numerous medals, but also gave him a chance to speak out against poverty and social injustice.
Cheek left his home at the age of fifteen to start training full-time. Although he had just discovered his love for the ice, he was an experienced athlete. Coming from inline skating, and being the US junior champion for a couple of years, Cheek already had a good feel for the sport and knew what it took to win races. In his first years, the American participated at all-round tournaments, with moderate success: at the World Championships for juniors in 1997 he finished 13th, and a year later he climbed two steps in the ranking. Soon after that he found out he was better at the short distances, and specialized at the 500, 1.000 and 1.500 meters.
That turned out to be a smart move. Although he wasn’t quite ready to compete for the international podium in the first two years of the new millennium, Cheek rapidly became a force to be reckoned with. At the World Championships (WC) Sprint in 2002 he finished 7th, which was a clear sign that he was a candidate for the podium at the Olympics in his home country a few weeks later. And indeed, in Salt Lake City, the former inline skater from North Carolina won a bronze medal at the 1.000 meters, and became 6th at the 500 and 4th at the 1.500. This was his big breakthrough.
The following years Cheek stayed successful, but for a long time wasn’t able to win international tournaments. It took him until the next Olympic season to get in the shape needed to compete with the absolute best. As a prelude, he won the 2006 WC Sprint for the first time in his life, finishing before Dmitri Dorofejev and Jan Bos. The Olympic Games in Torino the following month turned out to be even more successful for Cheek: there, he won gold at the 500 meters and silver at the 1.000; at exactly the right moment, the American exceeded most people’s expectations, and lived up to his dream.
Cheek donated his winnings to Right to Play, a non-governmental organization founded by Johan Olav Koss, that helps children in Africa and the Middle East through the use of sport and play. In an interview with USA Today he later said: “Going into the Olympics, I knew I wanted to [do something to help] that part of the world if I skated well. Right to Play had a program in Chad for Darfur refugees, and I was ready to sign on.” Shortly after that, Cheek retired from speed skating to devote his time going to college. Also he co-founded, Team Dafur, an association of athletes devoted to raising awareness of humanitarian crises related to the war in Darfur.
Nowadays, the former speed skater is the owner of Dailyhouse.com, an online sports news agency that he set up in 2012. In interview with Business Insider a few years ago Cheek stated that his fascination with the media started at his first Olympics, where he was impressed huge press center that to him resembled a trading floor. “I realize now that was the dawn of this sort of entrepreneurial ambition that made me want to go into media. I love the idea that you’re creating something. It’s not a physical thing necessarily, but you’ve got this sort of factory, so maybe one day, god willing if I work my tail off, I can have a little information factory of my own.”
Jeroen Savelkouls, January 28, 2014