Unknowns Make Their Mark

United States Joey Cheek holds a flag as he makes a victory lap during the Winter Olympics men's 500 meter speedskating sprint race at the Oval Lingotto in Turin, Italy, Monday, Feb. 13, 2006.
AP
CBS Early Show correspondent Tracy Smith shares her gratitude toward the lesser-known U.S. athletes that have made the 2006 Winter Olympics magical.


Greetings from Torino, or Turin, if you're The New York Times or several other U.S. publications. (In case you're wondering why CBS chose to call this city by its Italian name, it's because both the International Olympic Committee and the United States Olympic Committee call it "Torino." So, Torino it is.

I know there's been a lot of talk of how the pre-ordained stars of these games haven't done so well. Bode's 0-for-4 as of this writing, with one race to go, Michelle Kwan dropped out, skiier Jeremy Bloom went back to football, Sasha got silver. But, I've got to tell you I'm grateful it's gone down that way, because I got to meet some of the "unknowns" who took their places on the medals stand.

Instead of Bode we got gold medal winner Ted Ligety, a guy who was so un-commercial when he first started skiing professionally that while other skiiers had names of sponsors on their helmets, Ligety's said "Mom and Dad."

While Jeremy Bloom didn't medal in moguls, a guy named Toby Dawson did. Dawson has an amazing story: he was abandoned as a young boy in South Korea, and adopted by two Americans who happened to be ski instructors. Imagine how proud his mother was -- made us all proud.

And then there's Joey Cheek, gold and silver medal-winning speedskater. While so much attention was focused on Chad Hedrick's potential to win five golds, and Hedrick's tiff with teammate Shani Davis, Cheek, without much bluster or fanfare, donated all of his winnings to charity.

And the athletes who really impressed me were two who didn't come close to winning a medal: ice dancers Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukov.

They're the married team that ended up in 14th place after skating their hearts out. Denis came to the States from Russia, and has since become so very American that when he and Melissa went with a bunch of international athlete friends to a United States-Russia hockey game the other night, Denis dressed head to toe in red, white and blue. Melissa told me the story laughing with pride.

What makes them, and hundreds of other lesser known athletes like them, so special is that they actually believe the "take part" phrase in the Olympic motto. They're soaking up and appreciating every moment of the Olympic experience, even those far from the medal stand.

So never mind the stars. These are the men and women that make me happy that I had the chance to take part.