Rebagliati Gains Support as Police Investigate
By Rachel Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 12, 1998; Page C10
SHIGA KOGEN, Japan, Feb. 12 (Thursday) On Wednesday, middle-aged Olympic officials in suits stripped Canadian snowboarder Ross Rebagliati of his gold medal in the giant slalom. Today, he was summoned by Nagano police to explain his drug use. Japan has strict anti-drug laws and does not allow anyone convicted of drug use into the country. Possession of marijuana can carry a five-year drug term. He left the station, still awaiting a decision on his appeal of a positive test for marijuana.
At the site of the halfpipe snowboard competition, his peers had their say.
"It wasn't fair; it wasn't necessary," said Canadian Tara Teigen as alternative rock music blared from speakers placed strategically around Kanbayashi Snowboard Park. "It made us think about whether we wanted to drop in today. None of us think what happened to Ross is proper or right or fair. But I came because I've worked two years to be here. I wanted to have a try at it."
Teigen was competing in the halfpipe competition, the last snowboarding event at these Olympics. The halfpipe is the glamour event of the sport, and flips and tricks from the riders didn't disappoint the sea of fans covering a hill overlooking the action. But what was supposed to be the coming-out party for a first-time Olympic event instead turned into a day of anger and disappointment over the possible revocation of its first Olympic gold medal.
"I'm bummed" was the consistently voiced comment from the sunglass-wearing riders, who seemed to stick together in supporting Rebagliati. Canadian Michael Michalchuck was the most expressive of the bunch, holding up a small white banner at the end of his run that read "Ross is the champion, give the gold back."
As Michalchuck held the banner in front of his chest for a series of television interviews, the Canadian Olympic Association was awaiting the decision of the Court of Arbitration for Sports, which held an appeal hearing on the issue Wednesday night. At the hearing, the COA argued that the positive drug test, which showed 17.8 nanograms per milliliter of metabolized marijuana in Rebagliati's system, was not the result of drug use by Rebagliati himself.
Earlier, COA Chief Executive Officer Carol Anne Letheren said there was an explanation for the positive drug test: "Rebagliati tested positive because he spends an inordinate amount of time" around others who smoke marijuana. The last time Rebagliati smoked marijuana was April 1997, Letheren said, but he was around others smoking the drug as recently as last week, at his going-away party in Whistler, B.C. Rebagliati's urine samples showed traces of marijuana in two previous drug tests, but the results came back negative because the concentration was below the international ski federation's threshold of 15 nanograms per milliliter.
On the mountain today there was little talk of specific test results and more of general principles.
Riders in the halfpipe are allowed to choose the music that will be played as they complete their runs, so in the background of the debate, artists such as Beck, Sublime, Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix wailed the occasional line about drug use.
"It's so ridiculous; no one's getting faster because they smoke," Christel Thoresen of Norway said. "They're the ones who wanted snowboarding in the Olympics and they know snowboarders are a little more liberal people."
Earlier this week, snowboarding was being hailed here as a wild success, a hip sport breathing new life into a staid Olympics. But that image was tarnished by Rebagliati on Wednesday and again today by Austria's star snowboarder Martin Freinademetz, who was thrown out of the Winter Games after a riotous party at his hotel during which he smashed furniture and office equipment, according to his team.
With perhaps a little more life then they bargained for, International Olympic Committee members will have to decide whether to keep the snowboarders around. All first-time Olympic sports are considered provisional, subject for review after their initial year of competition.
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