Joey Cheek Had Eyes Set on Olympics Since Early Teens
First Ice Coach Recalls Determination of Inline-to-Ice Gold Medalist
Former speed skating coach Kent Thometz can't help but chuckle when he recalls the self-confidence of the young Joey Cheek.
"Joey was funny," Thometz says. "When I met him, his first question was not, 'Do you think I can make the Olympic team?' It was, 'How quickly do you think I can make the team.'"
It turns out that the young inline skater's confidence was well placed.
Not only did he win a bronze medal in the 2002 Olympic Games, but today he struck gold in the 500 meters at Torino.
Cheek's pursuit of Olympic glory began in 1994. "His mother called me up and said, 'Joey is just gung-ho. He wants to be a speed skater,'" Thometz recalled.
Thometz was an ice speed skating coach and had been a member of the 1980 and 1984 U.S. Olympic speed skating team. He invited Cheek, who was a junior inline national champion, to come to Minneapolis and train with his team, the Plymouth Speed Skating Club.
Cheek accepted the invitation and moved from his home in North Carolina to Minnesota. He was 14.
"He was awkward at first. But he learned fast," Thometz said.
"My problem with him was that he was so gung-ho. At practices, we would work on specific things, like intervals or tempo training. But coming from inline, Joey just wanted to go out and hammer lap after lap.
"A lot of what I did with Joey was to get him to slow down and work on technique."
Cheek was dedicated to training and his enthusiasm was contagious, Thometz said.
"He really helped my team. It was really good for them to see a kid that fired up."
Cheek trained with Thometz for a couple of years before the coach told him it was time for him "to move on to a higher level."
Cheek continued his training with noted coach Mike Crow.
In 1998, he won the U.S. junior speed skating overall championship.
In 2002, he won a bronze medal in the 1000 meters at the Winter Games in Salt Lake City.
Earlier this year, he won the World Sprint Championships.
As for Thometz, he still lives in Minneapolis but no longer coaches. He retired early a few years ago but continues to do some carpentry and has started speed skating again "with the old guys."
(posted on Feb. 13, 2006)
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