Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A golden opportunity

In a way, the best thing that ever happened to Olympic speedskater Joey Cheek was being denied entry into China and, thus, the Beijing Games.

Cheek, who won a gold medal in Turin in 2006, was rebuffed in his attempt to attend the Olympics after Chinese officials decided to revoke his visa. China offered no explanation for the decision but it's most likely because of Cheek's work with Team Darfur, an international coalition of athletes who have called attention to China's economic ties to the bloody conflict in the Darfur region of western Sudan.

I watched Cheek, 29, make an appearance on The Colbert Report last night and couldn't help but think I was looking at the birth of a political celebrity. Cheek was self-assured, articulate and played a very good straight man to the wacky Colbert. In short, Cheek endured the Colbert treatment and come out looking golden.

The Chinese haven't heard the last of Cheek. In fact, they gave Cheek the perfect podium from which to deliver his message and launch his run to the White House in, say, 2028 or 2032. An Olympic gold medalist, Ivy League student, social activist, humanitarian (Cheek donated his $40K in Olympic prize money to charity) and outspoken critic of a Communist regime and America's largest threat to world supremacy. You tellin' me that's not the biography of a political superstar?

At the moment, Cheek is studying economics and Chinese at Princeton University and using his newfound platform to promote Team Darfur. But that's just the start.

Cheek can't rival Phelps for Olympic medals, not now and not ever. But when it's all said and done, Cheek's denial will be the enduring memory from these Games. What a golden opportunity.

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