Worldwide Olympic Day was celebrated on the west steps of the Capitol yesterday as more than 100 past, present and future U.S. Olympians gathered to show support for the athletes who have been overshadowed in recent months by the Salt Lake bribery scandal.
"A few people, unfortunately, took it upon themselves to give us a little black eye in the Salt Lake Games," said Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.), the captain of the 1964 U.S. Olympic judo team. "But that's only a bump in the road. And most Americans know that is not going to tarnish the image of their U.S. Olympic team."
The scandal has led to the expulsion of 10 members of the International Olympic Committee and the resignations of several key members of the Salt Lake City organizing committee for the 2002 Winter Games.
Campbell said the U.S. Olympic Committee "has done its very best to recover from that falter. And we're looking forward to not only a great Salt Lake Games, but many wonderful future games."
In addition to Campbell, Rep. Jim Ryun (R-Kan.), a three-time Olympian who was a silver medalist in the 1,500 meters at the 1968 Games in Mexico City, and several other Olympians, including four-time gold medal swimmer John Naber, spoke. Naber asked for more money to help athletes train for the 2000 Sydney Games and the Salt Lake Games.
"I urge all Americans and all great American corporations to renew their commitment to support America's Olympic team," Naber said.
Naber was one of 47 gold medalists at yesterday's event. Afterward, four-time Olympian Teresa Edwards, who played on the 1984, '88 and '96 U.S. gold medal basketball teams, said yesterday's ceremony "is trying to start a clean slate and getting back to where the importance of the Olympics is and that's with the athletes."
Gretzky in Hall
Two months after his retirement as the greatest hockey player in history, Wayne Gretzky was voted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Calling it the "icing on the cake," Gretzky made the Hall with the same ease with which he broke scoring records, bypassing the standard three-year waiting period for inductees.
Gretzky is the 10th player in NHL history to do so.
"It's overwhelming," Gretzky said. "Just to be part of the Hall of Fame is a great tribute. Everything I have in my life, I owe to hockey."
Gretzky was one of three new members of the Hall, joining former referee Andy Van Hellemond and Ian (Scotty) Morrison in the builder category. They will be inducted on Nov. 22 in Toronto.
Gretzky retired after the 1998-99 season and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman retired his number 99. In 1,486 games with teams in Edmonton, Los Angeles, St. Louis and New York, Gretzky had 894 goals and 1,963 assists for 2,857 points--1,007 more than runner-up Gordie Howe scored in his Hall of Fame career.
Gretzky also scored 122 goals in the playoffs and 56 in the old World Hockey Association to give him 1,072, one more than Howe. Gretzky, who owns 61 NHL records, was a 10-time scoring champion and a nine-time MVP. He also helped the Oilers win four Stanley Cup championships. With all his accomplishments, he has been the NHL's Michael Jordan--an almost mythical figure who fans of all teams admired and packed stadiums to see.
Since his retirement, Gretzky said he has had "peace of mind. I miss the game, but I know in my heart I made the right decision."
Gretzky said his only plans now involve moving his family back to California, where he has a home since his years with the Los Angeles Kings. Gretzky said he had offered his services as an assistant coach for his sons' hockey team, "but so far I haven't heard from them." . . .
The East Coast Hockey League postponed yesterday's scheduled dispersal and expansion drafts. The Chesapeake Icebreakers players were to be included in the dispersal draft, which league officials said "will be rescheduled based upon internal activity." Meanwhile, the league announced a news conference for noon today at Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum, likely to announce an expansion team for that city. ECHL spokesman Jason Rothwell said there's no new word on a possible buyer for the Icebreakers franchise, and team owner Michael A. Caggiano did not respond to several phone calls.
Points of View Differ
Bayern Munich star Lothar Matthaeus was quoted as saying he will join the New York/New Jersey MetroStars next season, but Major League Soccer disputed his account.
The 38-year-old sweeper, a former captain of Germany's national team, was quoted in the daily Bild as saying he will play for Bayern Munich until the Bundesliga's winter break.
"My plan is to quit [Munich] in winter. In January, take vacation. In February, train with Munich. And in March, the season in the United States begins," Matthaeus said.
German reports said Matthaeus has signed a contract with the MetroStars--leaving only the date he will join the club open--and will receive $1 million a year. The team's coach, Bora Milutinovic, is a friend.
"We are not in active discussions with Lothar Matthaeus to play in Major League Soccer," said Todd Durbin, the league's vice president of player personnel.
Belmont Fire Probed
A fire at Belmont Park that killed three thoroughbreds may have been deliberately set, fire investigators said.
Joseph Saudo, an investigator with the Nassau County fire marshal's office, said Tuesday night's fire in a backstretch barn was being investigated as a possible arson.
Two of the horses, Clear to Launch and Graceful Finish, were so badly injured they had to be euthanized immediately Tuesday night. A third horse, Surely Handsome, was euthanized yesterday afternoon. All three were trained by J.J. Toner.
Investigators interviewed workers and used trained dogs to sift through charred debris in the barn. The fire started in a vacant area of the barn and spread rapidly. Saudo said the dogs detected the presence of flammable liquids, but he cautioned that trainers often use alcohol products in treating horses. He said samples were taken to the Nassau County Police crime lab.
"We don't know. It could have been a cigarette or something," New York Racing Association fire marshal Kenny Kopp said Tuesday night. Smoking is prohibited inside the stables.
CAPTION: Gymnasts, from left, Courtney Kupets, Glyn Sweets, Dominique Dawes are among past, present and future U.S. Olympians at Worldwide Olympic Day.