Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Gretzky ducks media, lights torch speculation

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VANCOUVER -- Wayne Gretzky played hard to get Wednesday on the eve of the Vancouver Games, adding to the growing speculation he might be given a significant role in the opening ceremonies.

The Great One avoided a swarm of reporters after speaking briefly at a promotional event for one of his sponsors Wednesday, twice slipping out side exits rather than facing questions ahead of the Olympics. There are rumours he could be involved in Friday's opening ceremonies at B.C. Place -- perhaps as the final torchbearer -- and Gretzky did little to squelch that talk by aggressively ducking the media.

His public comments were limited to a one-minute speech delivered to a crowd that included dignitaries such as B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell and John Furlong, CEO of the Vancouver Olympic organizing committee. During that address, Gretzky recalled being in Prague as part of the team bidding for the Vancouver Olympics.

"I remember sitting with Premier Campbell and Mr. Furlong and we kept saying the same thing: 'This really is a great city, this is really a great province and this really is a great country,"' he said. "I think the rest of the world is going to come here to this city and see just how tremendous this city is and how great our country is."

Organizers have gone to great lengths to keep details of the opening ceremonies a secret.

Gretzky appears to be a natural choice to play a role in the event. He is arguably Canada's most recognizable athlete and has been involved in the past three Games, playing for Team Canada in 1998 before serving as executive director of the men's hockey team in 2002 and 2006. He is serving as a special adviser this time around.

The NHL's all-time leading scorer also helped play a role in Vancouver landing the Games, a contribution Campbell highlighted during his speech on Wednesday.

"Without your help, we wouldn't be here today," Campbell said.

 

-- The Canadian Press

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 11, 2010 C4

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