By Steve Keating
SOCHI, Russia Feb 14 (Reuters) - For all the International Olympic Committee's efforts to inject a youthful vibe into the Winter Games it is the ice hockey old-timers who are having their day on the Sochi rinks.
Finland's Teemu Selanne, the 43-year-old elder statesman of international hockey, may be competing in a record-equalling sixth Olympics but the man known as the Finnish Flash is not in Sochi for a retirement party.
Neither are his fellow greybeards, 42-year-old Czech Petr Nedved and his 41-year-old team mate Jaromir Jagr, 41-year-old Latvian Sandis Ozolinsh and Sweden's Daniel Alfredsson, also 41.
Like Selanne, Nedved is breaking stereotypes and setting new standards in Sochi where he is competing in an Olympics a record 20 years after his last appearance at the 1994 Lillehammer Games, where he won a silver medal for Canada.
All five of the 40-somethings bring much more than experience to the Olympic table.
Jagr, competing in his fifth Games, has scored in both the Czechs' preliminary round contests. No surprise considering that even at his advanced age Jagr remains a force in the National Hockey League, leading the New Jersey Devils in both goals and points this season.
"I don't get old man, I don't know why. I feel 25," said Jagr, who will celebrate his 42nd on Saturday when the Czechs take on Switzerland.
Ozolinsh, a seven-times NHL All-Star who played his last game in 2008 and retired from the national team in 2006 following the Turin Olympics, returned to the ice last year to help Latvia qualify for Sochi.
For his efforts the burly defenseman was handed the honour of leading Latvia into the stadium at Friday's opening ceremonies.
Jagr, Nedved and Ozolinsh were all on the ice together at the Bolshoy Ice Dome on Friday, still battling and contributing to their teams on hockey's biggest stage as the Czechs claimed a 4-2 win over Latvia.
In a gladiatorial sport, all five men have survived two decades of punishing and sometimes brutal battles in arenas around the world.
When Selanne was taken in the first round of 1988 NHL draft by the Winnipeg Jets, helmets were not yet mandatory and professionals were still a decade away from being allowed to compete at the Olympics.
Twenty-four years, 1,434 games and 682 goals later, Selanne is back at his sixth Winter Games as the Olympics all-time leading scorer playing alongside 18-year-old Aleksander Barkov and 21-year-old Mikael Granlund who were not even born when he played in his first Games.
"I don't know, he seems to be an anomaly, he's found the fountain of youth," said Bruce Boudreau, who coaches Selanne on the Anaheim Ducks. "The laws of nature say it's time.
"He's a special guy.
"He's got such a passion for the game that it sometimes carries you a long way.
"He doesn't do it as a job. He does it because he loves to play and you can tell when he's out there and having fun playing."
While Selanne and his fellow seniors have turned back the clock in Sochi, it is likely to be the last Olympic hurrah for all five.
Selanne has announced his plans to retire from both the NHL and international competition at the end of the season and Alfredsson is also widely expected to call it quits.
"Obviously I'm very proud that I've been able to play for so many years, and the passion for the game is the biggest reason I can still play," said Selanne, whose collection includes a silver and two bronze medals.
"But of course it's not getting any easier at this age.
"Obviously it means a lot, and every Olympics is a new story and a new adventure. Doesn't matter if it's the first or sixth time.
"Knowing it's going to be my last Olympics, it's a good thing, you can really enjoy it. You see things differently, and just enjoy it." (Editing by Ed Osmond)
- Sports & Recreation
- Ice Hockey
- Teemu Selanne
- Jaromir Jagr
- Sandis Ozolinsh
- Petr Nedved