Speed skater Koss still the boss in charity role

Thu Jul 30, 2009 8:27pm EDT
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By Tom Pilcher

LONDON (Reuters) - Where once he was storming his way to Olympic gold medals, he now heads a global charity. Norwegian Johann Olav Koss does not do things by halves.

After a stunning triple-gold haul in the speed skating at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, 'Koss the Boss' gave his winnings to the Olympic Aid charity, sparking off a flood of 18 million dollars' worth of other donations over 10 days.

This benevolent act also took the Scandinavian, then 25 and on the brink of retirement, on a remarkable journey which ended with him becoming the head of the charity Right to Play.

Olympic Aid was set up in 1992 to show support for people in war-torn countries and areas of distress and later grew into Right to Play, which organizes sports events and provides the means for children to play.

Koss told Reuters he first witnessed the power of sport during a trip to Eritrea in 1993.

"Being an athlete you're so focused on yourself and you don't think you can do much to help," he said, speaking from Vancouver.

"But that trip helped me realize that by promoting sport and play programs, and that through education, I could actually do something greater with my own career. It's not that you do sport just for yourself."

So successful is Right to Play that in the first quarter of 2009 it received 200 requests to start new programs.   Continued...

<p>Johann Olav Koss of Norway celebrates as he wins the 10,000 meters speed skating event of the Lillehammer Olympics at Hamar's Olympic Hall in this February 20, 1994 file photo. REUTERS/Ulli Michel/Files</p>