Gretzky makes journey from legend to liability

Canada's ice hockey icon is under investigation for illegal gambling activity. Mike Rowbottom reports from Turin

Wayne Gretzky, the most celebrated ice hockey player in the history of the game, arrived at the airport here yesterday looking less like "The Great One" and more like "The Weary One". And his condition was not entirely to do with an exhausting overnight flight from Toronto.

The executive manager of Team Canada, who set out in defence of their Olympic title with a match against the hosts today, may just have spent 12 hours above the clouds, but he was unable to evade the metaphorical version enveloping him following a state investigation into illegal gambling back home.

Whether the team he has hand-picked to repeat the gold-medal winning performance at Salt Lake City - which contains nine of the gold medal-winners - will manage to escape any fall-out remains to be seen.

Gretzky, who is also head coach and part-owner of the National Hockey League team Phoenix Coyotes, has vigorously denied ever wagering on professional sports. But he has faced increasing calls from the media to step aside until he is cleared of any wrong-doing. He travelled with his wife, the actress Janet Jones, who has been implicated as a placer of bets.

The New Jersey Star Ledger, citing law enforcement sources, reported that secretly recorded phone calls revealed Gretzky knew about the ring. It said investigators were looking into whether he placed any wagers through Jones, who is alleged to have bet $500,000 (£288,400) on games during a six-week state investigation known as Operation Slap Shot. It is not illegal for anyone in the US to gamble on sport but anyone who takes a bet must have a licence.

The newspaper cited investigators as saying there was no evidence that Gretzky directly bet through the ring.

Rick Tocchet, a Coyotes assistant under Gretzky, was charged this week by New Jersey authorities with financing the ring, which police allege took in more than $1.7m (£1.2m) in bets during the investigation.

Gretzky has maintained that his presence in Turin would not be a distraction, as his job was simply that of supporting the players. "The focus I have right now is this hockey team and getting ready for the Olympic Games. The focus should be on these athletes," he told a news conference before flying to Italy.

He spoke for barely five minutes before the conference was ended by a Canadian hockey federation official after Gretzkyhad been repeatedly asked about the integrity of the game.

"That's not for me to talk about," Gretzky responded. 'There's no story about me, that's what I keep trying to tell you. I'm not involved." But Gretzky's Olympic experience here is already shaping up as something that will contrast uncomfortably with his two previous appearances, as a player and then as an inspirational rinkside leader of a team which claimed its first Games gold in half a century.

Eight years ago, at the age of 37, Gretzky used the Nagano Olympics to make his international farewell as a player after a career reputed to have earned him more than $100m. The man who finished his career as the NHL's all-time record points scorer showed only glimpses of a sublime gift that had already been diminished by a serious back injury five years earlier.

But at 5ft 11in, and dwarfed by his 6ft 4in colleague Eric Lindros, Gretzky - in his trademark 99 shirt - still demonstrated a game which, like his face, was all angles. The progress of the years was evident in one obvious respect in Japan, however. While his younger colleagues vaulted to and fro over the barrier between bench and ice, Gretzky used the gate provided.

He departed with dignity after Canada had lost their semi-final to the eventual winners, the Czech Republic, commenting: "When you don't win, you have to accept the lumps and take your bruises. When you win, you accept the flowers and roses." He arrived at the Salt Lake Games of 2002 in charge of a team whose players' combined annual salary was $118.2m. But there was no price that could have been put on the gold medal they eventually earned at the expense of their marginally less wealthy rivals, the United States. It was Gretzky's turn for roses, but four years on, the odds - if that is the right phrase - would appear to favour more lumps and bruises.

Life is far from trouble-free for two of Canada's main ice hockey rivals. Dominik Hasek, whose heroics in goal helped win the 1998 Olympic title for the Czech Republic, has had all of his playing equipment go missing during his complicated plane journey to Turin from Ottawa via Washington and Milan and he was sweating on its reappearance in time for today's tournament opener against Germany. He is being helped out temporarily with kit from Italy's goalkeeping coach Jim Corsi.

US team officials meanwhile suffered an anxious 24 hours as all but two of their players had flights delayed because of snowstorms back home. "It's been a little crazy," an official said. "But all of our guys are here now."

Arts and Entertainment
arts + entsWith one of the best comic roles around, it's no wonder she rarely bothers with films
News
people
News
i100
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
News
i100
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Life and Style
A small bag of the drug Ecstasy
Health
News
i100
Life and Style
Floral-print swim shorts, £26, by Topman, topman.com; sunglasses, £215, by Paul Smith, mpaulsmith.co.uk
FashionBag yourself the perfect pair
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup