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Friday, August 15, 2008
Yale track star balances practice, books and business

By Dave Reed
Special to ESPN.com

As a member of Yale's track and field team, Victor Cheng got a first-hand look at the rivalry with Harvard.

Victor Cheng
Victor Cheng contributed immediately to Yale's track and field team.

One of the oldest and most intense rivalries in college athletics, there usually is no love lost between the Bulldogs and Crimson. The schools first competed in crew in 1852 and have been archrivals ever since.

Cheng became part of the longest-running college rivalry before he ever attended Yale. The two schools were among the three finalists for the former high school track star, who won the 100 meters at the 2004 Washington State High School Track and Field Championships.

But Cheng chose Yale even though his sister, Olivia, graduated from Harvard in 1998, and he probably would have received at least a partial athletic scholarship from the University of Washington, something Ivy League schools can't offer.

"For my parents there was only Harvard, Yale or Washington," Cheng said about his college search. "I took visits to Yale and Harvard, but I really wasn't interested in Harvard. I thought Yale would be a better fit for me."

It turned out to be a perfect fit.

On the track, Cheng was in the fast lane from the start. He earned All-Ivy honors after running the leadoff leg for Yale's Heptagonal-winning 4x100 relay teams as both a freshman and a sophomore. During his junior season, he was named MVP of the Yale-Harvard meet after winning the 100, 200 and leading off the winning 4x100 team.

But Cheng saved his best for last and finished his career as the most decorated sprinter in Yale history.

In his final home appearance on Yale's Dwyer Track, Cheng won the 100 and 200 meters to become the school's first double winner in 37 years at the Ivy League's 2008 Heptagonal Championship.

In the 100, Cheng set the school record with a time of 10.39 in the preliminaries and won the event with a time of 10.58 in the finals. In the 200 finals, he won by one-tenth of a second with a time of 21.40. He also ran the second leg of the Bulldogs' winning team in the 4x100 meter relay.

"The Ivy League Championships were pretty amazing," said Cheng, who qualified for the NCAA regionals in each event. "That weekend I set personal records in every event I ran."

When you are a kid like Victor and there are so many things you are good at, you can't necessarily focus on just one. I think he has so much untapped potential on both sides, both with the computer programming and also with track.

--Yale sprinting coach
Marc Davis

During the indoor season, Cheng set the school record in the 55 meters with a time of 6.31, eclipsing Eugene Profit's mark of 6.33, which had stood since 1986.

His year-long performance earned Cheng the James Stack Award as the team's most valuable performer, which is presented annually to the male track and field athlete who best personifies the captain of the 1961 team which won the year's biggest three events -- a three-way meet against Harvard and Princeton, the Heptagonal and the IC4A Championships.

"He was a very good teammate," said Yale sprinting coach Marc Davis. "He wanted to do well and he wanted to set the example to make everyone else do well. That's why we've done well over the past few years, because we've had an example like him. He's a businessman. He comes in, gets the job done and goes home."

Cheng also excelled in the classroom, as evidenced by his numerous scholar-athlete awards. He was named to the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) All-Academic Track and Field Team and was a first-team all-district selection on the ESPN The Magazine track and field/cross country team.

What makes those accomplishments even more remarkable is he was dealing with a new distraction during his senior season. Instead of concentrating on his upcoming graduation and defeating the Crimson, Cheng and three colleagues from Yale teamed up with a pair of Harvard counterparts to form their own company.

"When you are a kid like Victor and there are so many things you are good at, you can't necessarily focus on just one," Davis said. "I think he has so much untapped potential on both sides, both with the computer programming and also with track. He probably could have gone faster than he did."

While those added responsibilities may have had somewhat of a negative impact on Cheng's athletic career, he realized right away they had the potential to pay off in the long run.

Victor Cheng
Cheng was able to balance a demanding schedule of school, track and his business.

When he enrolled at Yale, Cheng originally thought he would major in mathematics or physics, but he didn't enjoy the classes.

"I didn't think I was going to be a computer science major originally, but once I got to Yale I realized I really did enjoy programming and I wanted to give it a try," Cheng said.

That proved to be the right decision.

During his sophomore year, Cheng became friends with Victor Wong, a freshman business major who attended the same church. And when Wong had an idea for a start-up company, he contacted the best computer science friend he had, Victor Cheng.

"I was the only real tech person he knew because I was majoring in computer science," said Cheng, who is the chief technology officer. "He asked me about the idea and pretty soon after that, we started the company."

That company is PaperG, which is trying to master the potential of web-based advertising at the local level. Its first project, the "Flyerboard," allows people to advertise items like events and products by posting flyers on a virtual bulletin board that appears on high-profile Web sites like Boston.com, the New Haven Independent and, yes, the Harvard Crimson.

Cheng started working on the project the summer after his junior year, and after backing off a little bit during the 2007-08 academic year, is now immersed in the company on a full-time basis.

"We have other projects that we're working on as well," Cheng said. "I can't really talk about them right now, but we're developing new forms of Web advertising."

Online advertising is estimated to be a $20 billion dollar a year industry, while the local advertising market in the New England area could be worth as much as $9 billion. Obviously, any company that can make online advertising more effective could be in a very lucrative position.

When Cheng enrolled at Yale, he was willing to gamble that an Ivy League education would be more valuable than an athletic scholarship. Thanks to his work ethic and PaperG, he's on the fast track toward making that decision pay off.

Dave Reed covers college sports for ESPN.com.