Olympians visit Blair

April 24, 2002, midnight | By Kevin Chang | 18 years, 9 months ago

Three members of the United States 2002 Winter Olympic team visited Blair on Tuesday, April 23.

Joey Cheek, bronze medallist in 1000-meter speed skating, Jill Bakken, gold medallist in two-man bobsled, and Manuel Guerro, goalie of the gold medal-winning ice sledge hockey team, spoke at a morning assembly that was part of the Champions for Life tour.

All students who participated in fall, winter and/or spring sports were invited to the assembly, which included a short video about the Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Games, speeches by each of the three Olympians and a short question and answer session. Also, everyone who attended received a Champions for Life commemorative t-shirt.

The Blazer and some cheerleaders were on hand, and presented the Olympians with some Blair spirit items. In return, the Olympians gave the school an autographed Olympic flag from the Salt Lake Games.

Assistant Principal Linda Wanner opened the assembly. "Athletics and athletes teach us that it is our positive attitude that is really, really more important than most other things we do," she said.

Wanner mentioned the number of scholar athletes (athletes on the honor roll) at Blair and the importance of Olympic heroes after the events of September 11. She then gave the floor to the Master of Ceremonies, senior Sean Cooney.

Cooney thanked Athletic Director Dale Miller for being "hardworking," "dedicated," and for putting in "a lot of extra time that a lot of people don't know about." Miller commented on how "blessed" Blair is to have so many good sports teams, and congratulated athletes on showing "such great sportsmanship."

Blair athletes, who Wanner called, "our own champions," introduced the Olympians after the Salt Lake highlight video. Senior Will Hwang, captain of the boys' volleyball team and member of the indoor track team, introduced Cheek.

In addition to wining the bronze medal in 1000-meter speed skating, Cheek placed fourth in the 1500-meter race and fifth in the 500-meter race. He currently holds the US records in the 500- and 1000-meter races. He also went to law school and has a law practice in North Carolina.

Cheek started by saying, "Yes, I do know Apolo [Anton Ohno], because everyone always asks me that…" After speaking about his own history, he said, the "dedication and goals you guys set now are what will carry you through the rest of your life." Later, he added, "you guys can get whatever your Olympic medal is."

After Cheek spoke, senior Juliana Stevenson, captain of the softball team and member of the field hockey and swim teams, introduced Bakken.

A member of the National Guard, Bakken became the youngest Olympic bobsledder ever at the 1992 Lillehammer games. Vonetta Flowers, Bakken's brakeman, was the first black woman ever to win a gold medal at a Winter Olympics.

Bakken, who also plays soccer and other sports, said that she took up bobsledding at 17 for "no reason." She went to a competition that was opened to women because of Title IX, and entered a hostile atmosphere. "They were discouraging female bobsledders," she said, "waiting for the women to quit." Her success motivated her, and she said, "throughout the years we gained respect and made it to the 2002 Games."

Earlier this year, Bakken almost quit bobsledding because she was having a hard time. "Just being an athlete," she said, "all of you will have to go through things you don't want to." However, she said, "as soon as I got to the Games, as soon as I got to the Village, my attitude completely changed."

Bakken told students to never let family stand in their way and "don't ever give up."

After Bakken spoke, sophomore Patrick Atwell introduced Special Olympian Guerro. Atwell, who is disabled, plays wheelchair basketball, among other sports.

Guerro has been a member of the national team every year since 1990, and was made World All-Star goalie in 1997. He won a bronze medal in the Lillehammer Games, and was a World All-Star that year as well. In addition to sledge hockey, Guerro plays wheelchair basketball, softball and tennis.

Guerro surprised much of the audience by walking from his wheelchair to the podium. He explained that his legs are weak, but not totally useless. Guerro contracted polio when he got the vaccine as a child, which severely weakened his legs. Later, he was hurt even more in a car accident.

"There are some things you guys can do that I can't do," said Guerro, "but that's never stopped me." He became a goalie because it needed less movement than other positions.

After discovering wheelchair basketball, Guerro got six friends to go to Canada to play sledge hockey. "We got beat bad," he said, "real bad." Guerro and his friends eventually started up a national sledge hockey organization.

Little was expected of the US team at the Salt Lake games. After seeing the seedings, Guerro said, "I was like, wow…" The US was seeded sixth, under TBD (To Be Determined). However, the team surpassed all expectations. "We accomplished the unbelievable," he said, "beating Norway in a shootout."

"You can achieve anything you want to," said Guerro. "It sounds corny, but… it's really true. I wish you the best in life, and I hope we made a difference today."

After Guerro finished, audience members were given time to ask questions. The first question posed was "Do you guys bring your medals everywhere?" Cheek replied that his medal is for "sponsors, appearances, and when I'm trying to meet girls."

The second question was "How do you drive a bobsled?" Bakken answered that there is a sensitive pulley system inside the sled that controls direction.

The third question was "How do you support yourselves?" Cheek said that his parents supported him for a long time, but things got easier with fame and sponsorships. "Until the top of the world," he said, "you're living GHETTO."

Guerro quipped that he was a male model, but quickly added, "I'm kidding!" He then said that he has a "'real' job" and that some money comes from the US Olympic Committee. "Americans support American Olympic hopefuls," he said. Bakken had a somewhat different attitude, saying, "don't even let money be an issue in your dreams."

Asked how much the medals weighed, Bakken, Cheek and Guerro agreed that it was "about a pound."

The final question was about types of injuries received. Bakken said that, "every sport has its own injuries," and mentioned that she does not have insurance. Guerro seemed less worried, saying, "Hey, I've got polio and I use a chair… what's the worst that can happen to me?" He later added that hands being crushed between sledges is a big problem.

Cheek summed his problems up with the statement, "17-inch blades, 40 miles per hour…" He said that although cuts are the major problem for speed skaters, long-track skaters are better off. "Apolo and those guys [short-track skaters] are crazy," he said.

After that question, the Olympians left to meet Principal Gainous and then visit the White House for lunch with President Bush.

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Kevin Chang. Kevin Chang was born on April 28, 1985. This makes him a bull, and coincidentally, a Taurus. Somehow, he ended up in the Magnet program at Montgomery Blair High School, where he is now a SENIOR! 03! Yes, he is a geek. He is often … More »

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