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Checking out Joey Cheek
The Scholastic Kids Press Corps talks to the men's 500m Gold medal winner.
By Natalie Honodel and Kyle Eichelberger, Scholastic Kids Press Corps

Joey Cheek with Scholastic Kid Reporters
Gold Medal winner Joey Cheek talks to Scholastic Kid Reporters Kyle Eichleberger and Natalie Honodel.
(Photo: Suzanne Freeman)
Joey Cheek turned in the two best races of his life at the 2006 Winter Olympic Games on February 13 to win a gold medal. No stranger to winning, Joey went home with a bronze at the 2002 games in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Before heading for Torino, Italy, for the world's greatest competition, he sat down with the Scholastic Kids Press Corps to talk about his life as a speed skater.

Q: How did you first become interested in speed skating?
Joey Cheek: I'm from North Carolina originally and there's not a whole lot of ice or snow in North Carolina. I started on Rollerblades and I raced on Rollerblades from when I was 10 years old to about 16 years old. I was a couple of times national champion on Rollerblades and then I decided to switch.

Q: Did you just get so good that you decided to switch to that?
Joey: Yeah, I was watching the Olympics in '94 and I was pretty awed by a Norwegian guy named Johann Olav Koss. He won a bunch of gold medals and I wanted to try it, so I tried it. I was 16 and I actually left home to move to Canada to do ice skating, so I made the decision and then I pulled the trigger pretty quick.

Q: And your parents just let you do that?
Joey: They just let me do that, yeah. I was pretty mature at 16, although it seems to have stopped. I never got any more mature than I was at 16! But my high school in North Carolina was great. They let me do everything basically by correspondence my junior and senior year. It's not the easiest way to do it, but if you have a goal, you can accomplish it and work with your school and your family.

Q: Do you have a really amazing moment that sticks out in your mind?
Joey: The most powerful Olympic moment for me was the opening ceremonies in 2002. It was in our home country. It was in Salt Lake City where I had been living for three years training for the Olympics and it was in the Rice-Eccle Stadium in Utah where they play college sports. They had about 60,000 people there and you march under the stadium where all the bleachers are. You can hear everybody stomping and they march all the countries in. We were going last since we were the host country, and as you walk up the stairs all the volunteers are lined up on the outside of the stadium. They were so thrilled to see the Olympic team. Everyone is cheering really loud and giving high-fives and you walk out and the stadium opens up in front of you. It's 60,00 people—and the realization of 10 years of hard work came and it was just amazing.

Q: How do you train for speed skating?
Joey: We spend a lot of time going around and around. We actually spend a lot of time doing dry land on downtime. It's like off-ice training. We'll do things where you get in the speed-skating position, in the crouching position, but speed skating is really hard on the legs, because you've got to be in that really low position, so you see all of us with these big legs. Well, most of them are bigger than mine, but you see these guys with these huge legs. We spend a lot of time doing weights and cycling and doing this dry land training that we do. Then we spend a lot of time in winter, obviously, going in circles as fast as we can.

Q: Which of your events do you like best and which one is the most difficult to train for and why?
Joey: I do the best in the 1,000 meters. I won the most international medals in that race and at one time I won the 1,000 meters at the World Cup championship. The 1,500 meters for me is the hardest to train for, because it's another 500 meters. It's another lap and another straight away after the 1000 meters and it's just as fast, so you've got to go as hard for longer. Although it's getting to the point now where the 1,500 is almost as fast as the 500, so it's really close. It's how much you put into it. I think the Olympics are won before you get to the Olympics. People who train the hardest the many years leading up to it are the ones who win medals.

Q: What is the hardest part of speed skating?
Joey: The hardest part was probably leaving my family and friends when I was 16. That's pretty young to be heading out on your own, so for me that was pretty tough. The first couple years were pretty hard, because I moved to another country, although Canada is not that much different from the U.S. But I didn't know anybody and all this was new and I didn't really know what I was doing. I had a great time though and I have friends all over the world now, so what I missed with being with family and friends at home, I've more than made up for all over the world.

Q: Were there any athletes that you really looked up to when you were a kid?
Joey: Well, one speed skater that definitely comes to my mind is Dan Jansen. He won a gold medal in 1994. I think every speed skater in America watched him. He's just such an awesome skater and he had bad luck for several Olympics and then he won the gold medal in his last 1,000 meters, so he's really a guy that I look up to a lot. I know a lot of other people do as well.

Q: So who do you think is your biggest challenger in the upcoming games? He could be from the U.S.
Joey: Oh yes, definitely. In the 1,500 meters, Shani Davis—he's an American skater—he's really the guy to beat. I think he's undefeated so far in 1,500, so he's the guy I'm shooting for. In a thousand meters is a Dutch guy who I've been racing since I was 19. In 500 meters there are so many good guys, so those are the top competitors that I have to race against.

Q: What advice would you give to someone who wants to be an Olympian?
Joey: It gets said a lot, but you're going to face a lot obstacles and there are going to be a lot of times when you think you can't do it and usually the people that give up then are not going to make it. If you stop trying, you're never going to make it, so you have to keep plugging away. When things get rough, you have to know that they're going to get better eventually.

Q: What's the best advice that anyone has ever given you?
Joey: Actually I had this coach from Norway. This guy, I think he was probably like 170 years old, he was so old, but he looked like an angel. He was like Yoda or something. He told me that I needed to stay inside myself and not worry about other people. I used to get really excited about what that guy was doing over there and he said, ‘No just worry about yourself and if you fix your own problems, everything else will work out fine.' That's the best advice I ever had: to worry about me.

Q: Do you have a ritual to get you in the right mind-set?
Joey: I'm crazy man. I talk to myself. Anytime you see me on TV for the Olympics or the World Championships, I'm always talking to myself. I'm just kind of telling myself what I want to do right and what technical things I want to fix.

Q: So what do you do in your spare time?
Joey: I play guitar a lot. I play music. I've got an amazing girlfriend who I've been with for a couple of years and whenever we're not training, it's nice to see her. We hang out and go to movies and stay low-key. When I'm not training, I don't want to do any physical work.

Photos, left to right: © Rick Rickman/NewSport/NewSport/Corbis; © Joe Cavaretta/AP Wide World.