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Wednesday, January 2, 2002

Let Elvis wave bye

Stojko deserves to be flag-bearer

By STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

 There are any number of reasons Elvis Stojko shouldn't carry the flag in the opening ceremony at the Salt Lake City Olympics on Feb. 8. None of them hold water.

 One argument is that the flag should be given to someone who has already won gold at Olympics. In three previous attempts, Stojko has captured two silver medals.

 There's also the suggestion that the honour of hoisting the Maple Leaf inside Rice-Eccles Olympic Stadium should be awarded to someone who has a real shot at winning.

 Skating's Terminator is no longer a favourite to win. At 29, he's more of a contender for rheumatism than Olympic victory. Ol' Elvis didn't even qualify for the ISU Grand Prix final this year and has, in fact, won only one of the 16 international meets he has entered since placing first at the 1997 Skate Canada competition.

 Let's face it. The Terminator is a freezer geezer.

 Still, there's no one more deserving to carry the flag than Stojko, other than, perhaps, speed skater Catriona Le May Doan. The Winter Games roll around every four years and one flag is enough. Le May Doan carried the flag in the closing ceremony at the 1998 Nagano Games.

 Stojko won silver medals in 1998, with a wonky leg, and in 1994, when he easily could have been awarded the gold. He has captured three world championships, not to mention the hearts of Canadians for his gutsy performance in Nagano.

 More importantly, he has made men's singles skating a real sport, which nobody can deny -- the first man to land a quad combination jump, the first to land a quad-triple ... Thanks to Stojko, and a bevy of Canadians before him, the men are pushing the limits of skating and the sport, more and more, has been accepted by the so-called macho elements of society. Stojko has become a legend. And Salt Lake will be his swan song. He's also a decent guy. He always has time for kids and his fans, and is a great sport.

 Russian star Alexei Yagudin recently told the story of the first time he met Stojko, at the 1997 Champions Series final in Munich. The Russian star was sitting in the silent dressing room with the other top skaters waiting to be called to the ice. It was tense, Yagudin recalled, and everyone was afraid to say anything, until Stojko arrived.

 "He comes up to each skater and shakes their hand," Yagudin said. "That's really sweet. Elvis is a good guy. Now I look forward to shaking his hand (at every meet)."

 If Stojko should lose out for the flag, there are other viable candidates, such as soon-to-be five-time Olympian Susan Auch, Jeremy Wotherspoon and Marc Gagnon in speed skating, bobsledder Pierre Lueders, skier Edi Podivinsky and hockey's Eric Lindros. Why Lindros? He led the Canadian team to a surprise silver at the 1992 Albertville Games and captained the Nagano squad. Or, how about Wayne Gretzky? He won't be playing, but doesn't The Great One represent everything good about amateur sport (except for the amateur part)? Has there ever been a great ambassador for Canada in any winter sport?

 GAMES STUFF

 The leading scorer in history for the Canadian women's ice hockey team is not Hayley Wickenheiser. It's Danielle Goyette of St-Nazaire, Que., with 89 points in 64 games ... Just thinking out loud: Does Maple Leafs coach Pat Quinn irk the Finnish and Czech Olympic teams if he sends Jyrki Lumme and Robert Reichel to the minors between now and the Games? Not that they deserve to be sent down (cough, cough) ... There have been suggestions that the NHL Players' Association will resist sending its members to the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics, because of travel inconvenience, etc. A great chance to sell hockey, which is still only a regional sport internationally, would be wasted ... Some new IOC members will be elected at the 113th session in Salt Lake City (Feb.4-6). Among those in the running are His Royal Highness Prince Nawaf Fahd Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia and Sheik Tamim Bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani of Qatar (whew). The IOC supposedly does not want to be considered a old-boys network anymore. If that's the case, may we suggest that the door be closed permanently to kings, sheiks, czars, dukes, duchesses, nawabs, viziers, field marshals, viceroys and rajahs. Real people should be elected if they want to be considered a real organization.

 ATTA BOY JACQUES

 IOC prez Jacques Rogge said yesterday that the war against doping cannot be won (although it must continue). Some would suggest that Rogge is throwing in the towel. Others, more intelligent, worldly people, believe that he is just speaking the truth.

 On the matter of security, Rogge told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily he will be constantly nervous at the Salt Lake Olympics, right until the closing ceremony. "I'm crossing my fingers, hoping that everything will go well," he said.

 I'm crossing my fingers that my spare tire will be gone by the morning and all my hair will grow back.

 You have to do more than hope.

2002 Games Columnists