Newsmakers of the week

Ian Miller quits a race, Brian Burke moves to Calgary, a family relives 1986
Chris Young/CP

Mr. Hatfield, meet Mr. McCoy

Brian Burke, the florid and flammable 58-year-old ex-general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Anaheim Ducks and Vancouver Canucks has moved west to become president of hockey operations, whatever that means, for the Calgary Flames. For one thing, it means he won’t be spokesman for the team, he promised. That will be head coach Bob Hartley, his boss, CEO Ken King, or GM Jay Feaster. “I intend to have a background role and I think people will believe that when they see it,” admitted Burke, a human quote machine. “But trust me, they’ll see it.” Kevin Lowe, Burke’s counterpart with the Edmonton Oilers, gave a surprisingly diplomatic thumbs up to the announcement, considering he and Burke had a running feud that almost led to blows in the past. Lowe said Burke will add truculence to the Oilers-Flames rivalry. “He spices everything up,” Lowe said. That, you can believe.

The straight dope

It was 25 years ago in Seoul that Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson won Olympic gold in the 100-m only to lose the medal and his reputation when he was found to be loaded with steroids. In New York last week he spoke about the continuing problem of doping among elite athletes, the New York Times reports. “I’m a small part of a problem,” he said, while sitting beside former baseball star José Canseco, another admitted drug cheat. “I’m sorry to say that the drugs overshadowed my great ability that God gifted me,” Johnson said in an event sponsored by Skins, a compression clothing company that campaigns for drug-free sport. That goal is a long ways off. If anything, the problem has worsened, Johnson said. “Just because an athlete didn’t test positive doesn’t mean they’re clean.”

Todd Korol / Reuters

It’s the little things that get you

For want of a nail the kingdom was lost, goes the old proverb. A similar thing happened to legendary Canadian horseman Ian Millar. Instead of a lost horseshoe nail, it was his spectacles that let him down. They fell off as he rode his horse Dixson over a jump Sunday at the CN International Grand Prix event during the Spruce Meadows Masters in Calgary. The 10-time Olympian had to quit the race. Pieter Devos of Belgium rode Candy to win the event.

Well, goodbye dolly

Jian Yang, 33, has a nice house in Singapore, a great job and he likes the ladies—no, he really likes the ladies—so imagine his puzzlement that his love life is lacking. He suspects it has something to do with his obsessive collection of some 6,000 Barbie dolls, a near $400,000 investment. “I’m not what you expect from a guy that collects dolls,” the well-travelled director of strategy for Omnicom Media Group tells Reuters. Yet, he admits, “I’ve also got the ex-girlfriends who get insecure about this kind of stuff. They look at dolls and say, ‘Okay, that’s the competition,’ which is quite troubling.” Yes, it certainly is.

Talk about your space oddity

Meet Kirobo, the astronaut’s new best friend during those long stays at the International Space Station, or maybe on a trip to Mars. The Japanese-built android arrived at the station in August and became the first robot to speak from space, saying in Japanese, “It’s one small step toward a brighter future for all.” While no threat to, say, Chris Hadfield in the personality department, it can, like Canada’s singing astronaut, take pictures and post to Twitter. Kirobo may comfort countryman Koichi Wakata when he arrives to command the station later this year. Kirobo may have been a better match, though, for LADEE, a robotic spacecraft that NASA launched last week, all by its lonesome, on a moon mission.

Not exactly a gay old time

International condemnation over Russia’s law criminalizing the promotion of “non-traditional sexual relations” could ruin the 2014 Winter Olympics, says Dmitry Chernyshenko, chief organizer of the Sochi Games. He has asked outgoing International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge to intervene to “stop this campaign and this speculation” that the new law will trigger boycotts or protests during Russia’s showcase event. It’s not clear how the IOC is expected to quell the outrage, though Rogge said athletes will be reminded to refrain from protests and politics. Chernyshenko said Russia’s equality guarantees will ensure Sochi proudly upholds “Olympic values.”

But mullets? That’s cruel

In Blair McMillan’s view, 1986 was a great year. It’s not just that it’s the year of his birth, but it was a simpler time: no Facebook, no iPads, no smartphones. It is such a great year that McMillan is reliving 1986 in 2013, along with his partner, Morgan Patey and their sons Trey, 5, and Denton, 2. The year-long “social experiment” started at their Guelph, Ont., home this spring when McMillan had difficulty prying his sons away from their technology to play outside, he told London’s Daily Mail. Out went the cellphones, iPods and other gizmos, and in came a pink ghetto blaster, land-line telephones and this thing called film you put inside a camera. In the spirit of the times all three lads grew mullets. “It feels weird,” McMillan admits. “It feels like we really have gone back in time,” he said. Sometimes he still has phantom phone syndrome, the sense his missing cellphone is vibrating in his pocket. “At the same time,” he says, “the experience has brought the family closer and given us an opportunity to talk to each other a lot more.”

A Canuck shut-out

Hockey fans, voyeurs and business rivals were disappointed Monday to learn that the much-anticipated divorce trial of Vancouver Canucks co-owner Francesco Aquilini and his estranged wife, Tali’ah Aquilini, would not proceed. A settlement was announced an hour before the trial, scheduled for six weeks, was about to start. Tali’ah had listed adultery as one of the grounds for divorce; that, and the trial’s potential to pry open the Byzantine workings of the Aquilini family’s multi-billion-dollar empire, put the aggrieved ex-wife in a powerful bargaining position. The Canucks are a strand of a web of businesses controlled in a tangle of trusts by the family patriarch, Luigi, his wife, Elisa, and their three sons, Francesco, Roberto and Paolo. Francesco tweeted last week his worry about the trial’s impact on his five children, one from a previous marriage and four with Tali’ah. The couple finalized their divorce on Wednesday.

Girl power

It’s hard to imagine how terrifying it must have been for six-year-old Ruby Bridges to start Grade 1 at William Frantz Elementary School on a November day in 1960 in New Orleans. She was the first black child to attend the forcibly integrated school and she was guarded that morning by four U.S. Marshals. Last week Bridges, now 58, got to thank the last surviving guardian, 91-year-old Charles Burks. “Thank you Charlie for doing what was right at the time when it might not have been the easiest thing to do,” she said. “It was a privilege,” he replied. The pair were filmed at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis for a permanent exhibit titled, appropriately The Power of Children.

Prince Harry, a very chill dude

There are times, it’s been suggested, that Prince Harry would have benefited from a cold shower. But now the 28-year-old royal is taking that to extremes. He and four colleagues will be locked into a -40° C chamber for 24 hours in preparation for an upcoming Antarctic expedition. They’ll use their time to test cold-weather gear and their ability to set up camp in the sort of extreme temperatures they’ll face in their Walking With the Wounded Allied Challenge, a race to the South Pole by wounded soldiers. The prince is part of Team Glenfiddich, an event sponsor and no doubt a supplier of liquid courage. They’ll be racing against American soldiers and a Commonwealth team including injured warriors from New Zealand, Australia and members of Soldier On Canada. “As a member of the British team,” the prince told competitors in the 335-km race, “I will have a brew ready for you when you join us at the pole.”