It would be easy, after all the hype and expectation, to pile on Bode Miller for his dismal performance at the Winter Olympic Games in Turin.
Miller was, of course, a willing and well-compensated accomplice to the campaign to make him a national hero for being a rebel and a racer who, by the way, was supposed to bring home some hardware from Italy. But that campaign and the Bode phenomenon were first and foremost media creations.
Miller captured the Alpine World Cup skiing title in 2005. Then the machine of instant fame captured Bode. Random House Publishing Group printed an autobiography he wrote, or claims to have written — "Go Fast, Be Good, Have Fun," a title that can effectively be shortened by two clauses.
Video game publisher Merscom LLC signed him to a deal to create "Bode Miller Alpine Skiing." In an act of foreshadowing, Merscom touted its product with this titillating description: "Train with your coach, buy ski gear and score lucrative sponsorship deals as you rise to the top of the industry in Career Mode."
"60 Minutes" peddled Bode's drunken descents. Rolling Stone celebrated "the great blue-eyed hope of the U.S. ski world." Bode endorsements and Web sites abounded.
And then Turin. The man who, according to Rolling Stone, was a one-man revolution against the conventions of skiing and the world order was merely a gold medal glutton who didn't earn any medals.
"I just want to go out and rock, and, man, I rocked here," Miller unapologetically told the Associated Press. "I'm comfortable with what I accomplished. I came in here to race as hard as I could. I got to party and socialize at the Olympic level."
On one of Miller's official Web sites is a manifesto of sorts. "Join something bigger than you," it reads in part.
Bode Miller and sponsors, meet Joey Cheek.
Few people had heard of Cheek or remembered his bronze medal four years ago in Salt Lake City. In Turin, he skated away with the gold medal in the men's 500 meters.
Then a remarkable thing happened. Cheek seized the machine of instant fame and forced its gears to turn in the opposite direction.
"I've always felt that if I ever did something big like this I wanted to be prepared to give something back," he said at a news conference after his victory.
"I do a pretty ridiculous thing. I skate around in tights. But because I skated well, and because I now have a few seconds of microphone time, I have the ability to hopefully raise some awareness and raise some money and maybe, God willing, put some kids on a path that I've been blessed with."
At that, Cheek donated his $25,000 gold medal bonus from the U.S. Olympic Committee to Right to Play, a humanitarian organization founded by Olympic great Johann Olav Koss of Norway. Right to Play uses sports as a tool for childhood development in some of the most blighted locations on the globe.
Cheek earmarked his donation to help children from the Darfur region of Sudan. And he called on his corporate sponsors and other Olympians to make similar pledges. Cheek added another $15,000, his bonus for winning the silver medal in the 1,000 meters. Last week, Cheek's $25,000 seed had blossomed into more than $400,000 in donations to Right to Play.
Cheek has not claimed to have written an autobiography. He has no video game contracts. And his successes in Turin have garnered him far less media attention than others with equal or lesser laurels. And Cheek hasn't disclosed whether his partying reached Olympic levels.
But Cheek, for a few moments, silenced the hype and hysteria of athletic hero worship and the glorification of self. And in doing so, he restored a good measure of the Olympic character — and the human spirit — to the Olympic Games.
"It is empowering to think of someone other than yourself," he said at his news conference.
Over the course of 69.76 seconds, Cheek turned in an impressive competitive performance on the ice in Turin.
He, like fellow Olympian Koss, is making a more significant showing in the struggle to be human.