Zen 10 questions: Joey Cheek

On February 16th of 2002, I was in a Lake Placid hotel room, watching Canadian TV coverage of US speedskater Joey Cheek winning a bronze medal in the olympic 1000m. I was on my second weekend ever at a long track, skating f-ugly in the blizzards of Placid, and understanding what I was seeing on TV from a whole new perspective. I never suspected that 4 years later, I would be walking into the same oval I had been watching on TV, and my friend Joey mentioned to me that he had followed a link from Eva’s blog, and that he had enjoyed reading a good chunk of mine. I immediately invited him to be the next Zen 10 interviewee/victim.

Joey, given some of your accomplishments, it’s an honor to have you here on my humble blog, and I promise that I will attempt to ask questions that are completely unique, and nothing any Olympic press pool reporter will ever think to ask!

1. I remember last October, when you and the US national sprint team were training in Milwaukee, I watched you do some very hard solo efforts at top speed, 800m/1200m/1600m I think. If I recall, you puked several times that day from the effort. Later that week at the US single distance championships, you set the Pettit rink record in the 1000m. In my twisted associative mind, you earned that rink record training to those painful limits the week before. Shatter my illusion or confirm it, was I witnessing just a really bad day? Or was something special happening?

HAHAHA - yep, these questions are going to be fun. For whatever reason of biology, I have always been a puker. Those super-high lactate days (in the 18-20 mm/l or whatever the unit is) do a number on my stomach. I like to think that they are part of the reason I do well at the 1000m, 1500m. Otherwise I have really wasted a lot of perfectly good food. I think that it is better to hurt in practice, so you feel good during races.

2. You are consistently in the top 15 sprinters in the world, and in the biggest meets, you are a frequently resident on the podium. From your perspective as one of the truly fast what are the factors that sorts out who is 1st, 3rd, 8th, 12th? Everyone is talented, everyone tries really hard, what creates those tiny differences?

Hmmmm, I will try and keep it short. I am not one of those that pretends that good ‘ole elbow grease and hard work will make up for bad genetics. I believe that unbelievable talent is actually better to have than just working hard. That being said, speedskating is a very technical sport. If you have somebody with, say, above average physical ability and they spent their time learning how to really skate well, they will be able to beat a lot of the top skaters. But someone like Jeremy Wotherspoon. More talented than almost all, and a very good technical skater - well, his record speaks for itself. Attention to detail, perfecting the little things, those tend to separate the rest of the herd.

3. You have been an elite athlete most of your life, as a young inliner you went to inline world championships twice, and you have competed internationally on ice since 1997, Very few people have any clue what its like to live the kind of life that you do. How do you describe the pressures you face at “the office”

For starters, my job is, in a lot of ways, easier than many people imagine. Yes, we still have 7 hours days occasionally, and anyone who knows me will tell you that I hate being on a bike for more than 15 min, but I do what I love. I have a lot of down time, and every four years or so people will pay me a ridiculous amount of money, just to talk about myself. What I think makes it difficult though is the fact that of every one of us doing this only one wins. We wake up and for four years at a time, we train to be the best ever for 30 or 60 sec. Don’t fuck up - just win. Most people have a hard time putting in so much time for something, that almost no one will accomplish. But I still love it.

4. Skating, when done correctly, looks effortless. The training and preparation for it is anything but effortless. What are the technical, physical, or lifestyle aspects to skating that you personally have to work really hard at?

I have found that I do the same few things technically incorrect over and over. The secret for me has been to drive in, day after day, the corrections to those problems. Then when I race to not try and go fast, but to simply let my body do what I have drilled over and over and over. Zen-like huh?

5. You have skated the world cup circuit for quite a few years. Aside of the folks on the US team, who are the really nice folks on the international circuit?

Of course my teammates - Nick, Tucker, Fitz, Needham, Tim. Those guys are absolutely my best friends in the entire world. And honestly, most people on the circuit are pretty cool. I am good friends with Erben and Mark Tuitert. Oh yeah, all the Japanese are awesome! Especially the Sankyo speedskating team.

6. Tell us something surprising about you or your life that those of us who know you through skating would never have suspected:

Well, none of my friends would be surprised by this, but I was a huge geek in middle school and most of high school. I would probably have been chosen in school as least likely to participate in a sporting event.

7. In your bio on the US speedskating website, it mentions that you build and shoot potato guns, I have seen people with things that look like homemade PVC bazookas launch potatoes huge distances, how big is your cannon and what is your farthest shot so far?

Haha, it is about 4 and a half feet and I can shoot about 275 yards.

8. You mention in your bio that you want to go to law school, and I have heard rumors you have been spotted with studying materials on world cup trips! Is it an advantage or disadvantage to have a good mind in a sport like this?

Ahhhh, I don’t know, one of the hardest things for me to do is not think too much. I can’t say if it is an an advantage or not to be book smart, but every great athlete I have met has been a genius about their sport and about psychology. Maybe not in the traditional sense, but still a genius in some regard.

9. No elite speedskater steps to the starting line alone, so many help along the way. Here is your chance to say thanks to those who have been there for you:

First: Mom and Dad. They are always first. Then my teammates and coaches. Finn Halverson from Norway changed my life. Finally Eleanor, my girlfriend. Probably the most recent addition, But she has helped and added things to my life I could never have imagined.

10. Haiku Speed Round
1. Favorite city on the world cup circuit to find really good food?

Anywhere in Italy

2. Your dream house: where is it and what does it look like?

On cliffs overlooking the beach - Cape Cod style

3. You spent the off-season this year in France, give me 3 words to describe France.

Like America More

4. Do you see yourself living in North Carolina again? I used to date a woman from Greensboro, it’s a nice place.

Thats where I grew up, I love it

5. I hear you play guitar, If you could borrow for 24 hours the skill of any musician who ever lived, who would it be?

Eddie Vedder

6. Movie you never get tired of seeing?

Dazed and Confused

7. What was the best Halloween costume you ever had as a kid?

A robot!!

8. Name a really expensive habit you wish you could afford?

Collecting Ferraris

9. Are you tempted at all to own a copy of “The Cheek Family Chronicles“? After all, they mention you as one of the 9 most notable “Cheeks” of all time! (besides it’s only a 1,104 page, 8 lb book!)

Hahah!! Shouldn’t I get a complimentary copy?

10. When wandering past a Barnes & Noble endless magazine rack, what ones do you reach for and flip through?

Always the Economist, sometimes Playboy.

Thanks for your time Joey, its always a pleasure talking with you, I hope that when readers of this blog see you on TV during the upcoming winter Olympic games, they will have a much clearer picture of the interesting mind under that skinsuit hood!

13 Responses to “Zen 10 questions: Joey Cheek”

  1. awesome interview, always love the zen 10…good choices on question #10 (the playboy one) hehehe

  2. Referring to Zen Question #9 above … Joey, drop me a letter/email at the website above, and I will happily send you a complimentary copy of “The Cheek Family Chronicles”.

    Best wishes from a distant cousin,
    (the author), Jeff Williams, Plymouth, MI

  3. […] photo I took just before Joji Kato’s 500m world record, He is paired with good guy, and Zen 10 interviewee Joey Cheek. There are many layers of “seeing” here. The skaters are focusing down the tra […]

  4. Remember me??? I’m really proud of you! Would love to hear from you. How’s Bill, Chris and Michael? TeresaPDAvis@earthlink.net

  5. Do yo remember me? I’m so proud of you! Best of luck to you. Please give my best to your mom and dad and Michael. Would love to hear from you! TeresaPDavis@earthlink.net

  6. Hi homey, I know that its been a while since you, me, and Jason Allen(R.I.P)were friends, but i am so proud of you! You were always the sweetest and the most destined. You may not that old Fay. NC Easter meet, but I raced for Team Carolina and at 17 you were my first kiss on a rainy day underneath a tarp at a banked track race in 96.
    Love to You, Chris and Micheal always.
    that pretty black girl,

  7. Hi homey, I know that its been a while since you, me, and Jason Allen(R.I.P)were friends, but i am so proud of you! You were always the sweetest and the most destined. You may not that old Fay. NC Easter meet, but I raced for Team Carolina and at 17 you were my first kiss on a rainy day underneath a tarp at a banked track race in 96.
    Love to You, Chris and Micheal always.
    that pretty black girl,

  8. […] a friendly on-ice acquaintance. Joey has appeared on this blog several times, both in a ZEN 10 Interview, and a video blog I recorded just before Olympic trials, about nerves and racing. Here is a g […]

  9. Hey man, I followed the links here from the article on the 25K donation, and as a fellow North Carolinian (not by birth, but by choice) I wanted to say how cool that was. Also cool you chose Dazed and Confused. In case you need a laugh…I’m an author with a bunch of books out, but one of the things people have enjoyed over the last few years is some humorous Olympic Fiction I’ve written. The first was “The Bearer of Bad Shoes” which I wrote right after the Summer Olympics, and the current story is being serialized daily in my own live journal.

    The link above is the journal..the first story is at: http://www.macabreink.com/images/Journal/BadShoes.htm

    Consider it a gift from me to Olympians everywhere. I LOVE watching you guys…


  10. Kudos to you Cheek! May this will get the media to notice Darfur!

  11. […] e of these guys would say it didn’t happen to them, they made it happen. Mr. Cheek said that talent was as or more important than hard work. So how does this argument relate to music? At least in […]

  12. I think joey is great:)
    greetings from holland

  13. yea i think joey’s great too. and NOW that he has brought to the attention of eveyone the suffering of the people in darfur , and that the media,OUR government, and HIS countrymen get off their butts and do something to stop it. because WE are ALL in this together , and it seems that a lot of amercians have a narrow minded view of the world and our place in it.

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