Skating on Melting Ice for the Great One?

And not just because he coaches the Phoenix Coyotes. If there is any truth about the allegations that Wayne Gretzky and Rick Tocchet were involved in illegal gambling it will have some obvious implications for them and hockey in general. However, in the case of Gretzky in particular, the outcome will have an impact on an entire nation.

Wayne Gretzky is a national symbol to Canada. Like the Royal Canadian Mounted Police has become an integral part of our political culture, so has Gretzky. One will be hard pressed to find a sport figure in North America that has meant more to his country than Wayne Gretzky. The closest to my mind is Babe Ruth. Indeed, baseball players captivated the publics imagination more than any other athlete once upon a time in the U.S. I'm not sure Michael Jordan reached such an esteemed level.

America is littered with sports legends but they seem more regional in their legend than national. Though Red Grange, Junior Johnson, Jim Thorpe etc. all were national heroes to an extent, did they ever reach Gretzky's Arthurian image like in Canada?

Gretzky's iconic image is quintessentially how Canadians want to be looked upon on the global stage. This is why if any of these reports are true and evidence implicates Gretzky, the national psyche of entire people may be ruptured. One will be able to hear the collective sighs of disbelief all the way to Torino. It may take some time before the story unfolds but in the mean time Canada is holding its breath.

When are we going to learn to not turn athletes into mythical figures? If Gretzky goes down (which by the way is highly unlikely) so should the entire ethos to which we hold athletes in high regard. Every parent may have to sit down with their kids and delicately explain to them how to balance admiring someone's talents and achievements with outright infatuation that flowers the athlete with obscene adulation.

On a side note, I met Wayne Gretzky in 1983 when he was visiting the city of Laval north of Montreal. At the time, Mario Lemieux was playing in Laval and the hockey world was buzzing with anticipation of Gretzky's heir apparent. Gretzky was being sponsored by the now defunct GWG Jeans (come to think of it I have no idea whatever happened to the company). Laval is predominantly French speaking city and I still remember the look on everyone's face while waiting in line. You did not need to speak any language to know who Gretzky was. I waited in line and he signed the picture of him in his GWG's and stylized 80s blonde hair.

I taped it on the wall off the side of my bed where it stayed for a long while. Strange enough, I can't help but wonder if that pristine memory is just that - a distant memory from an innocent time bound to disappoint.

Nah. Gretzky's image will always age better than, say, Barry Bonds.

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