February 11, 2006
Gretzky making right call by fulfilling obligations
By ERIC FRANCIS, TEAM SUN
TURIN, Italy -- Make no mistake, Wayne Gretzky is making the right decision to come to these Games.
Because that's what great leaders do. They lead.
They don't run and hide when the heat gets turned up.
They show up to finish the job.
In this case, his task, his goal, his passion over the last year has been to lead Team Canada's hockey squad to its second consecutive gold medal.
It's what he and the Canadian people want more than anything else from these Games.
Part of making that happen is to support his team in the midst of tremendous controversy.
Although his body language made it obvious Thursday night he's clearly embarrassed to be caught up in the fallout of a shockingly ridiculous gambling web alleged by authorities, Gretzky still wants to be here.
Those who subscribe to the theory he'll be a tremendous distraction to the team and to other Canadian athletes seem to forget that no matter where he is over the next few weeks and months, his predicament will continue to lead all headlines.
It's what Canadians are talking about and that isn't about to change anytime soon. The story will only get bigger.
Better he be here and face the cameras than hide.
Besides, what message is sent if he abandons his team and country?
Gretzky isn't capable of that. He cares too much.
Those who claim his presence will distract athletes don't give enough credit to the competitors who have dedicated their lives to their crafts by way of a focus no headline could compromise.
As for the hockey team, players such as Todd Bertuzzi, Dany Heatley and a roomful of others know all about playing through personal adversity. That's what pros do.
Former Olympic cyclist Curt Harnett said yesterday Canada's 'amateur' athletes are capable of the same thing. After all, they've been doing it for years as Canada debated Olympic controversies involving the likes of Kyle Shewfelt, Jamie Sale/David Pelletier, Ben Johnson and the like.
"We seem to like controversy in Canada," said Harnett, in Turin with clothing supplier The Bay.
"This distraction couldn't have any bearing on the athletes. You're so focused. I can't imagine for one second Jeremy Wotherspoon or Cindy Klassen saying, 'I wish Wayne Gretzky would stay home.' "
Those upset hockey will steal the spotlight despite the fact Canada's other 170 athletes are poised for the nation's best Games ever seem to forget hockey has done so since the pros started coming here in 1998.
That may never change.
The other athletes will certainly get their due as they collect medals and do the nation proud.
Make no mistake: Once the hockey tourney starts, Canadians will live and die with every win and loss as they have the last two Olympics.
Gretzky will be judged on whether it was prudent to select Bertuzzi over Sidney Crosby or Jay Bouwmeester over Dion Phaneuf.
Yes, there are some who wish Gretzky would disappear and the first pock mark on an otherwise stellar reputation would refrain from 'bringing his problems here.'
Sure, the easy thing would be for him to hide but the truly great ones never take the easy route.
Don't think for a minute the players don't still look up to him and appreciate the fact he'll be here to support them despite the scrutiny he'll face.
The same way he took the heat off his players in Salt Lake City with his premeditated 'us against the world' rant, his mere presence will take pressure off his team.
Gretzky has shown in the past he knows what's best for his team.
Why should this be any different?