It's a pure and rather uncomplicated part of his nature: the desire to help others. It wasn't instilled in him by personal suffering, poverty, sermons or guilt. Both his parents are doctors, so that may have something to do with it. Whatever the source, the ties binding us to our fellow man are seemingly visible to Johann Olav Koss, as real as pain, more lasting than glory, strong as hemp, so that when he passes someone less fortunate than he, Koss reaches out instinctively. Hitch on. Follow me.
You see this as Koss—hero of the 1994 Winter Olympic Games, built like some Norse god. square-jawed, strapping, straight-nosed—walks to the start of the New York City Marathon on Nov. 6 with the 165 disabled runners of the Achilles Track Club. He helps a wheelchair-bound athlete over a curb, then unobtrusively clears the way for a one-legged runner on crutches. He has the manner of just one more Achilles volunteer. Three days earlier Koss was honored at the Achilles Track Club's annual New York dinner. both for his athletic feats (four gold medals and a silver in two Olympics, and three world records at this year's Games in Lillehammer) and for his work with disabled athletes in Norway. But he goes unrecognized by most of the Achilles marathoners. That's how he likes it. He's retired from speed skating now, un-regretfully unwealthy, a third-year medical student with a headful of dreams and almost a lifetime in which to accomplish them.
This marathon is Koss's first and the fulfillment of a four-year-old promise. After Koss won his first world speed skating championship, an all-around competition in 1990, a young Norwegian named Ketil Moe wrote and asked Koss to accompany him in the New York City Marathon. Moe has cystic fibrosis, yet he had run in New York every year save one since '83, when he was 16. Moe, believing that the daily regimen of exercise had helped keep him alive, wanted other young people with cystic fibrosis to know of his accomplishments. Koss's presence would guarantee publicity.
Koss wrote back. He couldn't run the marathon while he was still competing in speed skating, but when he retired, perhaps in 1994, he would gladly do so. The two remained in touch. In '92 Koss and Moe started the Johann Olav Koss Run in Kristiansand, 150 miles outside Oslo, a fun run dedicated to encouraging disabled and able-bodied athletes to participate side by side. Last year nearly 2,000 runners took part in it. It was in this race in '93 that Koss jogged hand in hand with an eight-year-old blind boy, Aud Martin, who, television viewers may remember, became Koss's guest at the 1,500-meter race in Lillehammer. Koss, renowned for his punishing training sessions, would think of Martin when he was on the brink of exhaustion. "When I'm really down mentally, always what comes into my head is a picture of a blind kid who's smiling just to be able to run," Koss once said. "He always is saying to me, 'come on, come on,' and it makes things O.K., of course."
In this way Koss hears it too: Hitch on. Follow me.
The goal of Moe and Koss in New York is to finish, but Moe, now 27, an amazing age for someone with his disease, is also hoping to break 7½ hours. When he was younger he once ran this marathon in 5½ hours. Stopping regularly to cough up the phlegm that accumulates in his lungs, he cannot jog more than a few yards at a time. His usual pace is a fast walk. His legs are reed-thin, his face sallow and gaunt. Koss is part of a support team that includes Moe's physiotherapist, a Norwegian radio reporter and Moe's wife, Astrid, a 26-year-old with blue eyes as round as nickels. Rain is in the forecast. The dawn is tinted red. At 7:45 a.m. an air horn blasts, and to cheers and applause, the Achilles runners begin the windy trek across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. It's a cheerful, determined group facing a long, uncertain day.
In sports, certainly to North Americans, 1994 was an unusually disheartening year. Greed seemed to go unchecked. A baseball strike led to the cancellation of the World Series. An extended hockey lockout threatens the entire NHL season. It was a year of increasingly shocking violence away from the fields of play: the attack on Nancy Kerrigan by the Tonya Harding camp; the gunning down of a Colombian soccer player who had accidentally scored against his own team in a World Cup loss to the U.S.; the O.J. Simpson indictment for a brutal double murder.
Against this tawdry backdrop we've again been forced to face up to the sad truth that sports isn't a sanctuary. It reflects, often all too clearly, society. And, yes, today greed and violence are a big part of society. Come to think of it, when haven't they been?
But there are other human traits, less sensational, just as enduring, that we sometimes overlook or take for granted. Charity and goodness are two. Johann Olav Koss, the 26-year-old Norwegian whose guileless generosity with his money and his time brought life to a program called Olympic Aid, embodied those graces in 1994 more than any other athlete. At home and abroad he spread hope to an array of others less fortunate. For reminding us of our better side and selflessly staying true to his, we celebrate Koss as Sportsman of the Year. Like the late Roberto Clemente, like the late Arthur Ashe, Koss used—and continues to use—his stature as an athlete to help make the world a better place.
As great as Koss was at Lillehammer, it's easy to forget how surprising his Olympic trifecta was: three races, three gold medals, three world records by Secretariat-like margins. Before the Games no one thought to compare Koss to his idol, Eric Heiden, who won an unprecedented five golds in 1980 in Lake Placid. Heiden was expected to do just that. Koss came into last February a question mark.
He had struggled during most of the 1993-94 season. A month before the Olympics, in a 5,000-meter World Cup race in Davos, Switzerland, he finished a sorry sixth, 17.41 seconds behind Rintje Ritsma of Holland. In a final tune-up in late January he was fifth in a 5,000 and eighth in a 1,500 in Innsbruck, Austria. Koss's right knee was inflamed with tendinitis from overtraining. He was unsure of his form, unsure of his equipment and, worst of all, uncertain in his head. As he approached his first Olympic race—the 5,000 meters—in the Vikingskipet arena in Hamar, Koss didn't know how he would perform in front of his countrymen. He hadn't a whit of a champion's arrogance.
That wasn't new. Koss had always been something of an over-achiever. His first coach, Svein Hàvard Sletten, remembers that when he invited Koss to join his speed skating team at the Strom-men Club, near Oslo, when he was eight, the lad spent as much time in the snow as he did on the ice. "He was not a special talent for skating," says Sletten, now coach of the national team. "But he was a special talent for training. He wanted to train very hard, very young. That's good for the heart."
Koss was ranked 20th in his age group when he was 12, but he had already set a private goal to be world champion one day. To increase Johann's stamina, his father, Arne, a heart specialist, started taking him for long bike rides. By the time he was 13, Koss was riding in 140-kilometer races three or four times a summer. If Sletten had to miss speed skating practice, he never had to worry. "The other boys would want to play football, but Johann would say, 'No, we will train,' " Sletten recalls. "He took responsibility very early for his own training. If he did not do well in a race, it was never my fault. It was always his fault."
"I liked to train," says Koss. "Nobody pressed me. I was very far behind in skating until I was 15."
The next year he won his first age-group national championship. Koss then enrolled in a sports school for prospective national team members, and his training time increased to three to four hours a day. He studied hard too and always seemed to have a book in his hand. Sletten remembers watching Koss at the nationals when he was 16, studying English between races while the other boys were pacing nervously.
"I've always needed something else to concentrate on besides sport," Koss says. "To be just involved in one thing is like standing on one leg. If you break that leg, you will fall. But if you have two legs, then you have something else to turn to."
Koss never had the speed of a sprinter, so he concentrated on the distance events: the 1,500, the 5,000 and the 10,000. He missed making Norway's Olympic team in 1988, finished eighth in the worlds in '89 and then unexpectedly won the world speed skating championship in '90 at Innsbruck. His '91 season was his finest: Koss won 13 of 21 starts and set world records in the 5,000 and 10,000. "I felt I was now the best, and I didn't know if I wanted to skate anymore," he says. "I still wanted to skate in the Olympics, but I had lost some motivation."
Koss was among the favorites at all three distances at the 1992 Games in Albertville, but a week before the Olympics he developed pancreatitis and spent 48 hours in a hospital in Inzell, Germany. Obviously weakened from the illness, he finished a dismal seventh in the 5,000. Three days later he had recovered sufficiently to win the 1,500; later he took the silver in the 10,000. He refused to blame his illness for his performance, instead citing the complacency that had dogged him all season. "You get that way when you're champion," he says. "I was lucky it was only two years until the next Olympics."
In the summer of 1992 a fledgling program called Lillehammer Olympic Aid was launched to provide relief to the victims of war in Sarajevo, the city that had hosted the Winter Games 10 years before they were to come to Lillehammer. By the summer of '93, having already raised 27 million kroner ($4 million), Olympic Aid decided to expand its reach to include war-stricken children in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Bosnia. Each of these regions, along with Sarajevo, was assigned an "ambassador." a sports figure around whom fund-raising efforts could be centered. Koss was asked to be Olympic Aid's ambassador to Eritrea.
His name hadn't just been pulled out of a hat. For years Koss had been a steady contributor—100 kroner a month ($14)—to Save the Children, which was coordinating Olympic Aid's relief effort in Eritrea. A small country on the northeast coast of Africa, Eritrea earned its independence from Ethiopia in 1991 after a 30-year civil war. The money raised by Olympic Aid would help Save the Children rebuild a number of Eritrea's schools.
Koss was eager to help. As a boy he had visited India, Nepal and Egypt with his family, so he wasn't a stranger to Third World countries. "We are not wealthy, but we have always had enough," says his mother, Karen Sofia, an obstetrician-gynecologist. "A house, food, clothes, money to take trips. We wanted to show Johann and his brothers [Hamf Christian, 24, and Haakon, 20] someplace other than a rich country. Johann was 12 when we went to Egypt, and I think he was shocked. I remember being on a poor street in Cairo, and Johann telling me, 'Oh, Mother, we are happy, and we are rich.' "
Koss never forgot the trip, never forgot the feeling of watching barefoot boys his own age begging in the street. So when, in September 1993, five months before the Olympics, Save the Children invited him to visit Eritrea for a week to see the school rebuilding that the organization was doing, Koss wanted to go. He consulted the national coach, Hans-Trygve Kristiansen. Koss's training had not been going particularly well, and skater and coach agreed that the trip wasn't a bad idea. "I told him I thought it would be good for him," Kristiansen says. "Go to another country and see what problems can be."
"It was a very special trip for me," Koss says. "You focus only on yourself when you are training. Tenths of seconds. Problems with your toe. With your leg. Your skates do not feel perfect, and you're mad. The training is boring. You wonder if the world is against you. This is normal, to think this way. Then you visit a place like Eritrea, and you play football with a boy who has one leg, with a ball made out of shirts that are tied together. I saw how lucky I was that I could train eight hours a day. And I felt the importance of sport, how it could bring people together. I didn't complain so much after that."
Koss was a natural with the Eritrean kids, who, once they overcame their shyness, would clamber over this friendly, powerful Olympian as though he were some sort of human jungle gym. Koss would stick his arms straight out for kids to hang on and do chin-ups. Three or four at a time would latch on...hitch on, follow me...and he would see how far he could carry them until his arms dropped. There were no barbells or weights around for his training sessions, so Koss dug through a garage and found a long iron bar, which he hung with heavy metal hubs and cogwheels that, he thinks, came from a disassembled tank. The children giggled and laughed and mimicked him as he did his squats. When he practiced his explosive jumps, crouching into a speed skating stance then bouncing side to side, from one leg to the other, the entire building shook as some 200 malnourished, barefoot children gleefully did the same. "Sometimes the poorest people have the richest spirit," he says.
That spirit suffused Koss. He promised the Eritrean children that he would come back after the Olympics with sports equipment. After returning to Norway he carried the faces of those children within him, much as he did the face of the blind boy, Aud Martin. His workouts took on a new fervor, "it made him free," says Sletten. "He just decided to be the best skater he could be. Forget gold, silver, bronze. There are people suffering around the world. This is ordinary, what he's doing. Whatever happens, the world goes on."
In December, in a World Cup event in the Vikingskipet arena, Koss won at all three distances, setting a world record in the 5,000. He was stronger than he had ever been in his life. He was confident. His world had depth and dimension. Then in January, for some reason that even today he can't fathom, Koss's skates refused to glide.
Something similar had happened in 1992, and Koss said nothing about it that year. Then after the '92 season, when it was discovered that his skate blades were set at the wrong angle by the factory, he swore it would never happen again. "In speed skating very little change can make a dramatic difference," Koss says.
His coaches were skeptical. After all, he had set a world record in December. How off could his skate blades now be? But Koss was adamant, and on Jan. 24 he took his skates back to the Netherlands, where the blades had been made, got new ones and had them reset. They still didn't feel right. Two weeks before the Olympics they were changed at the factory again. Still no improvement. A week before the Lillehammer Games, Koss returned to the Netherlands a third time to have his blades recalibrated. "They were still wrong," he says now. "My coaches didn't believe me. They thought I was mentally off. They said, Just skate. But two days before the 5,000 I took my skates to a Norwegian guy, Frode Eidsmo, and he agreed they were wrong. He changed the position of the blades a couple of times. Just 24 hours before the 5,000 we finally got it right. But I can tell you, that makes you very uncertain when you stand at the starting line."
Koss had no idea how he would do. Neither did Kristiansen, the national team coach, who was unsure whether he had a head case on his hands or a temperamental genius. "I was worried." Kristiansen says. "His knee problems were real, and his results in January were not good. But that put him in a good frame of mind mentally, an attacking frame of mind. We didn't set a time to go for. We just tried to go as fast as possible."
One stroke at a time. Koss later said he had never felt such inner strength as he did when he took the ice for the 5,000. Some 12,000 bundled spectators, most of them winter-loving Norwegians waving their nation's flag, created an electric atmosphere inside the Vikingskipet. They knew the significance of the splits the moment the timing clocks flashed them, and as it became clear that Koss was on a pace that was close to his world record, the noise of the crowd rose ever higher, carrying him through the last three laps: "Jo-hann! Jo-hann! Jo-hann!" The sound seemed to follow him around the track like a wave. He skated his final lap in 32.01, nearly .3 of a second faster than he had ever skated the last lap of a 5,000 before, and finished .57 under the record. The second-place skater, Norway's Kjell Storelid, was 7.72 seconds behind him. It was the largest margin of victory in an Olympic 5,000 in 34 years, and it gave Norway its first gold medal of the Lillehammer Games.
"That was the greatest moment of my life," Koss says. "To feel the Norwegian people behind me, this was beyond what I can express." It made him an instant national hero, and KOSS THE BOSS banners sprang up overnight. "There was so much joy over this gold medal that it made me think a little bit before the next race. I felt so lucky. I was the happiest person in the world. And I decided, if this will happen to me again, I want to give the bonus that I get to Olympic Aid. That was my decision before the 1,500, although I told nobody. Of course, it's easy to decide to do it, tell nobody, then not do it. But it made me strong, I think, to be skating for someone else."
Holland's Ritsma owned the world record in the 1,500—1:51.60—which he had set five weeks earlier in Hamar. He was the favorite. Koss, paired before him, started characteristically behind the pace, built speed in the middle section and then, to a crescendo of cowbells and cheers, skated a blistering last lap that shattered Ritsma's mark by .31. The Vikingskipet crowd, whose numbers included Aud Martin and Ketil Moe, there as Koss's guests, exploded. When it was his turn, Ritsma led Koss by .2 of a second with 400 meters to go, but he ran out of gas, losing .9 to his opponent over the last lap. Koss had a second gold.
Afterward, at the press conference, he made his startling announcement. He would donate all his bonus money from equipment sponsors and the Norwegian Olympic Committee for winning the 1,500 gold medal, 225,000 kroner (about $30,000), to Olympic Aid. It was a remarkable gesture. Norwegian athletes do not have the commercial opportunities that Olympic stars do in America, and Koss estimates that his entire windfall from the Lillehammer Games, including endorsements and appearance fees, has come to less than $150,000. He isn't complaining, "I have enough. In Norway you are not supposed to earn too much money." He smiles at this flaw in the Norwegian character. "I will have work when I finish school. Norway needs doctors."
There were no press releases, no advance notices about the announcement, no agents orchestrating the moment. Koss, indeed, does not have an agent. "We had no idea he was going to do it," says Nita Kapoor, who was serving as the public relations manager for Olympic Aid. "It came from his heart, which is what made it so powerful."
Koss further challenged all his countrymen to donate 10 kroner ($1.37) to Olympic Aid for every Norwegian gold medal. "It's important to show solidarity with the people around the world who don't have it as good as we do inside the Vikingskipet," he said. His sincerity was such that before he had finished speaking, journalists—a crusty, closefisted lot by nature—were applauding and passing around a cup to collect donations.
The reaction was immediate and transcendent. "It set off an avalanche of new funds," Kapoor says. "It's impossible to describe the next three days. People were standing in line to give us money. Everyone wanted to speak to Johann, who of course was trying to get ready for his next race. We were getting calls from all over the world."
The day after Koss's donation Norway's prime minister, Gro Harlem Brunt-land, announced that the government, which had already given the equivalent of about $135,00 to Olympic Aid, would increase that by $1 million. Other groups chose to match Koss's donation: The Norwegian Olympic Committee, the International Olympic Committee, the city of Oslo, the city of Honefoss and a Norwegian shipping magnate each pledged 225,000 kroner. Volunteers collecting money on the streets of Lillehammer suddenly found spectators seeking out their coffers. They brought in about $200,000 during the Games.
"I did not expect it," Koss says of the fuss, which set off a whole new round of interview requests. "Plus when you have won two Olympic gold medals in your own country, there's a lot of hullabaloo anyway."
No Norwegian had won three gold medals in speed skating since Hjalmar Andersen in 1952, and a statue of Andersen had been erected in the Vikingskipet to remind everyone of that feat. The 10,000 was considered Koss's best event; his Dutch opponents had all but conceded it to him. The real question was, Could Koss set a third world record?
On the eve of the race, one of the Oslo newspapers ran a photo of Koss above the hypothetical time of 13:32.6, which was exactly three minutes faster than Andersen's time in 1952—and 10.94 seconds faster than the world record, which Koss had set in '91. "I thought it was impossible," he says.
Koss never sets lap-time goals when he skates, reasoning that if you are slower than you've planned, you begin to panic and lose your form, and that if you're faster than you've planned, you begin to worry that you'll tire. "And I can tell you," he says, "if you think you're going to cramp up, you're going to cramp up."
Koss skated his first lap of the 10,000 in 35.12. He then proceeded to reel off 24 straight laps that were between 32 and 33 seconds. Speed skaters refer to that as a flat race. But no one had ever seen a race that flat, that fast. He was a machine—tireless, relentless—and he was pulling away from the world-record pace with every lap. Every Norwegian in Hamar seemed to know it.
Koss, of course, knew it too. "I had never seen such fast lap limes," he says. "The coaches were holding them up, but they weren't making any body movements. If they had looked afraid for me, then I would have been afraid. But they were totally normal, no face movements, and it made me feel normal."
"It looked so easy," said Ritsma, who wound up seventh. "He looked like he was on vacation."
Koss's final time was 13:30.55. He had broken his record by a staggering 12.99 seconds. The second-place skater, Norway's Storelid, was 18.70 behind him. The bronze medalist, Bart VeldKamp of Holland, who was 26.18 seconds in arrears, predicted. 'This is a record that will stand for 30 years."
In the ensuing hoopla and celebration, a Norwegian government official announced that the Ministry of Culture would erect a statue of Koss in the Vikingskipet beside that of Andersen, so his feats in 1994 would be forever remembered. Koss's polite but immediate response: "I am very honored, but I would prefer that the money for the statue be sent to Olympic Aid." Then he added, smiling: "Maybe in 50 years."
Ketil Moe is also doing a flat race. Fifteen-minute miles, four miles per hour, mile after mile through New York City's boroughs. The street bands are starting to play, and Moe seems to be gaining some sort of second wind. His stops to cough and spit are less frequent now that the race is in its fourth hour. Koss has been at his side nearly every step, leaving once to buy fruit for Moe at a grocery store and another time to track down some Advil when Moe said he had a headache.
Koss was in New York last April as a newly appointed goodwill ambassador for the Norwegian Department of Foreign Affairs. He came to attend a charity party organized by the Norwegian Trade Council. He brought his girlfriend, Trine Landsem, who is also a medical student, and they were there basically to vacation. Koss is far too well known in Norway and northern Europe to be able to travel there in peace. He also did a round of newspaper interviews promoting Olympic Aid. While talking with a freelance writer, Brian Cazeneuve, whom he had met in Lillehammer, Koss learned that Cazeneuve sometimes volunteered in a soup kitchen for the homeless. Koss asked if he could come along. "He said, 'I want to see how these people live,' " Cazeneuve recalls. "He didn't want anyone to know. No camera people. No article. He had a very busy schedule, but we went on a Saturday morning. When we got to the shelter, he put on an apron, talked to the people, served them meals, cleaned up after them, put out new place settings. He kept asking how a rich country like ours could have these problems. No one had any idea who he was until finally a priest, who'd been watching us, came up and asked. 'How many gold medals did you win?' "
By mile 19 the tendinitis in Koss's knee has flared up, and he is limping as he walks alongside Moe, offering encouragement, massaging his friend's hunched back. Astrid Moe watches the two of them with a smile that shines from deep within her soul. Every day Ketil lives is a day that has been stolen from the odds. The two of them take nothing for granted. Watching Koss and his manner with Ketil, she says, "You know, in Norway people think of him like a saint."
Koss kept his promise to the children of Eritrea. On the last day of the Olympics, empowered by his fame, he auctioned off his skates and raised another $90,000 for Olympic Aid. Then he went to the media and, through them, issued a challenge to the children of Norway. He asked them to gather their extra usable sports equipment—soccer balls, shorts, jerseys, hats, shoes—so he could bring it with him when he revisited Eritrea in May.
All over Norway, kids began bringing sports gear to schools that had agreed to serve as transfer stations. Then trucks, donated by companies contacted by Koss, picked up the stuff and delivered it to Oslo. Twelve tons of equipment was gathered, so much that half the seats in the chartered plane—donated, of course—carrying everyone and everything to Eritrea had to be removed to accommodate the gear. Koss also arranged for a group of young Norwegians to accompany him on the trip: 10 children ranging in age from 11 to 15 from live different schools. He thought it was important that they be involved, start to finish, in the process. Then he made sure that there was a journalist along from each town that was sending a child, so the kids' stories would be seen back home. "That can stimulate the people to try to give more," he says. "The whole thing didn't cost us one krone. Everyone worked free."
There were critics, of course, some of whom asked, How can you take soccer balls to a nation in need of food and clothing? It bothered Koss. "My answer to that is, they need both," he says. "All people have the right to primary needs like food and shelter. But it's easy to stop there and not give the secondary needs, the needs outside their stomachs. Sport is more than a diversion, it is a means of social rehabilitation from war. In Eritrea it's a good reason for children to go to school. The people tell me they want this equipment. They say. 'Then we feel we are persons and not just something to be kept alive.' "
"We went to a tank graveyard," Cazeneuve, one of 20 journalists on the trip, remembers. "Kids were playing all over the tanks. Climbing on the barrels of the guns. Pretending to shoot them. Koss saw that and said, 'A lot of people will say, "Why are you bringing sports equipment to this place?" Look at the kids here. Their only heroes are soldiers. At some point you have to save the souls of the next generation.' "
Nor did Koss end his association with Eritrea with that visit. He returned there in July, a month after the 13 young coaches he had recruited from Norwegian sports schools had visited Eritrea to help set up programs in the schools rebuilt by Olympic Aid. Each coach was sponsored by a Norwegian company, and it is Koss's hope that the program will be self-perpetuating and that the returning coaches will recruit their own replacements.
Koss still has, after all, three years of medical school left. He's a full-time student. Yet he continues to steal time from his studies to lobby for the future of Olympic Aid, which, after raising some $10 million during the Lillehammer campaign and distributing it through established charities to those five wartorn places, is in peril of disappearing. "Johann wants to use his name to keep Olympic Aid alive," says Kapoor. "The Japanese in Nagano [where the 1998 Winter Games will be held] have more or less said they'd like to take over after [the '96 Summer Olympics in] Atlanta, but they feel it's too early to start now. If Atlanta were to pick up the torch of Olympic Aid, I really believe it would set off the tradition."
But the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG) has, to date, shown little interest in picking up that torch, pleading a lack of resources. A lack of resources/ The Lillehammer effort was run by an office staffed by four.
"We don't have the organization to run that sort of undertaking," says ACOG spokesman Bob Brennan. "You've got to realize that Olympic Aid is a Norwegian organization that wants its work carried forward. It has no official status within the International Olympic Committee. We suggested they approach the IOC."
Koss has done just that, giving two speeches before the IOC Centennial Olympic Congress in Paris in August, pleading that Olympic Aid become part of any future Games. "One of the goals of the Olympics should be to try to bring peace and prosperity to areas that don't have these things," Koss says. "It's important for sport, also. We have maybe gone too far in bettering our times and performances. Too much taking of drugs. Too much reaching for money. This maybe will show a different dimension of the sportsman."
The IOC congress politely listened to Koss's appeal and then moved onto other matters. But Koss hasn't given up. While he was in New York for the marathon, he approached the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), which had already signed an agreement of collaboration with the IOC about exploring the Olympic Aid fund-raising effort in 1996. UNICEF officials were intrigued. Still, they would need the approval of the ACOG, which may or may not be forthcoming. UNICEF, which will officially name Koss a UNICEF special representative for sports on Dec. 19, stated in a press release, "Johann will help UNICEF in advocacy and fund-raising activities, particularly those related to disabled children and children affected by war.... Johann hopes that he can assist UNICEF to repeat the experience of Olympic Aid at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta."
The crowds are thick in Central Park, and when they see the T-shirts worn by Moe and Koss many of them yell, "Go, Achilles!" Moe is an hour ahead of his goal—he will finish in 6:31—and, alarmingly, he feels his heart fluttering. He's nervous but says nothing to his doctor or his wife, knowing they will make him stop. "Sometimes in life you just have to take a chance," he later says.
A surprising number of Norwegians are among the spectators and the runners. You can tell them by their flags, an unforgettable reminder of Lillehammer. The Norwegians cheer wildly as Moe's entourage approaches, and it is funny to see their reactions when they recognize Koss. Heads swivel, eyes grow wide, hands wave frenetically. He responds, always in the same manner, nodding his head in Moe's direction, raising his arm over his head and twirling his hand in a circle to encourage more cheers. Moe forges wordlessly ahead. A smile creasing Koss's face, moved by the sheer force of human will, our Sportsman of the Year basks in the radiance of Moe's accomplishment.
Norwegian support didn't flag as Koss established the 5,000 world mark in Hamar.
Koss has spread goodwill from Oslo (right) to Eritrea (center and bottom left) to New York, where he ran with Moe.
ARNT E. FOLVIK/DAGBLADET
[See caption above.]
Whether walking or roller-blading, Koss is constantly moved to help children.
[See caption above.]
ARNT E. FOLVIK/DAGBLADET
Koss's Olympic Aid has brought some joy to war-torn Eritrea.
At 10, Koss (right) finished third in a 400-meter race.
Now retired, Koss (center) is just another medical student.
Koss's 13:30.55 in the 10,000 is plated for all to see.
[See caption above.]
Koss left Lillehammer with golden memories.