When Wayne Gretzky signed a two-year contract for $8 million plus incentives with the New York Rangers on Sunday, it was the treaty that ended a phony war in the NHL. The battle for Gretzky, a free agent, was conducted in hasty retreat as team after team backed away from the most prolific scorer in league history. Rangers general manager Neil Smith, who had explored trading for Gretzky last winter before the Los Angeles Kings moved him to the St. Louis Blues on Feb. 27, was stunned. "There were teams that came out publicly and said they didn't have any interest in him," Smith said. "I don't understand that. He's obviously a special player."
Gretzky, who at 35 scored 102 points last season, shrugged. "I can't answer why everybody didn't call, but I'm not too worried about it," he said. Gretzky, who was in fact too expensive for many teams, has more immediate concerns, such as being a complementary player on a team that belongs to captain Mark Messier, Gretzky's lieutenant in Edmonton in the 1980s, when the Oilers won four Stanley Cups. His other worry should be the clause that will give him an on-air role on an MSG Network television show. If NBC hasn't already burned the tape of Gretzky hosting Saturday Night Live on May 13, 1989, it should get out the matches.
But even as a No. 2 center with diminished ice time and increased airtime, Gretzky should be happier than he was during his two months in St. Louis. The Blues were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs—a Gretzky turnover led to Detroit's overtime goal in Game 7—and the Great One was the target of some well-aimed barbs from coach Mike Keenan. St. Louis was willing to pay more than the Rangers, but Gretzky was willing to take less to start fresh. (Keenan can have that effect on people.) And though they haven't played together in eight seasons, Messier and Gretzky on the same team is a compelling mix in a city that loves headliners.
Fish out of Water
Too bad for Misty Hyman (left) that the swimming trials were held in March. The 17-year-old from Phoenix missed qualifying for the Olympics in the 100-and the 200-meter butterfly by a combined .3 of a second. But since then, with a little guidance from nature's aquatic vertebrates, she has established herself as Olympic material in both events.
Inspired by an article in the March 1995 Scientific American that described how a fish uses spinning thrusts of its tail to boost speed, Hyman and her coach, Bob Gillett, developed the "fish kick." As Hyman enters the water, she turns sideways and uses a horizontal legs-together kick instead of the vertical dolphin thrusts butterflyers traditionally employ. Hyman, who swims underwater for considerably longer off the starting blocks than her rivals, has gotten consistently faster as she has perfected her style. At a meet in May she beat all the 1996 U.S. Olympians in the butterfly—Angel Martino and Amy Van Dyken (whose 100-meter Olympic quest began Tuesday), and Annette Salmeen and Trina Jackson (who are to swim the 200 in Atlanta on Friday). Hyman's time of 2:11.32 in the 200 eclipsed Jackson's qualifying time of 2:12.89 and propelled her to the top of the U.S. rankings in that event.
Astrology buffs take note: Hyman's an Aries, not a Pisces.
Deaths in the Family
The sadness and sense of loss wrought by the crash of TWA Flight 800 inevitably intruded upon the opening days of the Olympic Games. In his radio address on Saturday, President Clinton said, "Sixteen of the victims were high school students. Remember the dream these children shared...of making the most of their own lives.... That's the lesson we saw come to life so vividly yesterday in Atlanta."
The 16 students were from Montoursville, Pa., hometown of Baltimore Orioles ace Mike Mussina, who knew several of them from his volunteer work as a basketball and football coach at Montoursville High. Mussina was sleeping in a Boston hotel room when he received a 3 a.m. phone call from his brother with the news. "It makes you realize wins and losses aren't that important," Mussina said. "It's not going to be easy, [but] people will stick together and pull through."