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Gambling Scandal Overshadows Men's Olympic Ice Hockey

As the men's 2006 Winter Olympics hockey tournament began Wednesday, much of the focus has been on former star Wayne Gretzky, the executive director of the Canadian Olympic ice hockey team. That is because of a gambling scandal.

The legendary Wayne Gretzky, considered by most to be the best ice hockey player of all time, told a throng of international reporters here that he did not want to be a distraction at these Olympics.

But everyone wants to know about his links to a U.S. sports gambling ring allegedly run by compatriot Rick Tocchet, a former NHL player and one of Gretzky's own assistant coaches with the National Hockey League's Phoenix Coyotes in the western U.S. state of Arizona.

Gretzkys wife, former actress Janet Jones, is alleged to have placed bets with the gambling ring, which is being investigated in the eastern state of New Jersey. Gretzky himself has not been implicated in the gambling ring, but Tocchet has been charged and authorities say he financed it.

The 45-year-old Gretzky told the media here at the Winter Olympics the same thing he has told Hockey Canada President Bob Nicholson.

"It doesn't involve me," he said. "I'm not involved. I called Bob Nicholson seven days ago to explain to him that I wasn't involved. I've said it for seven days. It's over and done with."

But not in the eyes of the media. People want to know how Wayne Gretzky could not have been aware of something this serious involving his wife and Tocchet, his long-time trusted associate. He has not addressed that.

Gretzky said he only wants to think about the Olympics now that he is here.

"The concern is to worry about playing hockey. The concern is for these athletes, not just the hockey players but all the other athletes here who have worked their rear ends off to get to the Olympic Games," he said

Gretzky knows that as the executive director of Canada's Olympic Ice Hockey team that he would be under the microscope even without questions regarding the gambling scandal.

"If we don't win a gold medal, obviously I'll get blamed, but I've been blamed for losses before," he said. "I'ts not going to change my life. I said what I said a week ago. I'm not involved. And quite frankly that's the last time I'm going to talk about it."

Canada is one of the top ice hockey contenders here, and will try to defend its gold medal from the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.

Canada opened its campaign in Turin with a 7-2 victory over Italy Wednesday in Group round robin play.