On Monday's show, Stephen Colbert announced that the "Colbert Nation" would be sponsoring the U.S. Speedskating team, which had been left in the lurch after its biggest donor, Dutch bank DSB, declared bankruptcy in October. Speedskater Dan Jansen appeared on that episode, and on Thursday's "Report," another star of the sport will help Colbert plug his fund raising effort: Olympic gold medalist Joey Cheek. Cheek is a friend of the show, having appeared on Aug. 12, 2008, to promote his Team Darfur coalition.
Last night, Colbert reported that viewers had already donated $40,000 to the team. The show is hoping to raise $300,000, the amount that had been pledged by DSB.
According to an Associated Press story published before Colbert's campaign began, despite the fact that speedskating is responsible for more U.S. gold medals than any other Olympic sport, the athletes don't have it easy. "They work part-time jobs. They scrimp to pay the bills. Some even have filed for food stamps to make sure they get enough to eat."
Even before DSB went out of business, U.S. Speedskating already was planning to suspend its athlete stipends at the end of March, giving the organization a chance to reassess finances and decide how much it could afford to dole out at the start of the new fiscal year June 1.Hopefully, the heroes in the Colbert Nation will come through and support the athletes. "We're highly optimistic that the country is going to get behind this and get behind the Colbert Nation and support this amazing team," Crowley told the AP after his appearance on the "Report." "I don't have any idea if it's going to make $5 or $500,000. I couldn't tell you."
"After March, everything shuts down," said Robert Crowley, the executive director of U.S. Speedskating. "We told the athletes, 'This is where it's going to end, so budget yourself accordingly.' We've tried to be real upfront and fair with them."
Colbert is reportedly considering taking his show on the road to Vancouver for next year's Winter Games.
According to this Time article, Colbert's staff contacted U.S. Speedskating and proposed the deal. Crowley wanted to make sure the show knew the sport was no laughing matter: "We stressed to the Colbert staff that we have exquisite athletes who have trained their entire lives for that Olympic platform. They can't minimize that. They get it, and they recognize that."
If you would like to help the cause, and feel that extra burst of patriotic pride when you see the Colbert Nation logo on the speedskaters' uniforms, you can make a donation at the US Speedskating web site.