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."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice