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IOC Strips Gold From Canadian After Drug Test

By Rachel Alexander
Washington Post
Wednesday, February 11, 1998; Page C1

 "I've been training for 11 years to be the best snowboarder in the world," said Ross Rebagliati. "I worked too hard to let this slip through my fingers." (Reuters)
NAGANO, Feb. 11 (Wednesday) — The International Olympic Committee stripped Canadian snowboarder Ross Rebagliati of his gold medal in the men's giant slalom today after he tested positive for marijuana. The medal was the first ever awarded in Olympic snowboarding.

The Canadian Olympic Association said it would appeal the IOC's decision to the International Court for Arbitration in Sports, which will make a ruling within 24 hours.

"The COA has met with Ross and we were informed that the last time he used marijuana was April of 1997," Carol-Anne Letheren, the COA chief executive officer, said. "Ross claims that the traces of marijuana in his system are due to the significant amount of time he spends in an environment with marijuana users."

Michael Wood of the Canadian Snowboarding Federation said Rebagliati was most recently in close contact with people using marijuana at a going-away party on Jan. 31, the night before he left for the Olympics.

The IOC had the option of giving Rebagliati a stern warning or disqualifying him, IOC Director General Fracois Carrard said.

"They were fairly split on the issue," Carrard said. "The IOC executive board took its decision by three votes to two, two voted to abstain, and the president doesn't vote."

The IOC's medical commission, which reports to the executive board, voted to disqualify, 13-12. The IOC has no specific threshold for marijuana use, although the International Ski Federation has a threshold of 15 nanograms per millimeter. A urine test on Rebagliati measured 17.8 nanograms per millimeter.

Marijuana is a banned substance by the IOC, although it is not listed as a performance-enhancing substance.

"There's some discussion about marijuana," Carrard said. "I've been told that it could be a performance-enhancing drug because it appeases."

Carrard said the IOC has not yet decided how to reallocate the snowboarding medals if the expulsion holds up through appeal. At the competition Sunday, Italy's Thomas Prugger placed second, Ueli Kestenholz of Switzerland was third and Diter Krassnig of Austria fourth. Aspen's Chris Klug, the highest-ranking U.S. rider, placed sixth.

"I've been training for 11 years to be the best snowboarder in the world," Rebagliati said. "I worked too hard to let this slip through my fingers."

The COA is preparing Rebagliati's defense. Letheren said the COA has been advised that chronic marijuana users can have traces of the drug in their system for up to 30 days. The organization still is gathering data on secondhand marijuana smoke and its effects.

When asked whether the culture of snowboarding promotes marijuana use, Woods said, "The culture of snowboarding is one of free-spiritedness. It comes from the skating and surfing background. However, when we consider athletes of this caliber who have been competing and training diligently for several years, I would say it's virtually nonexistent.

"I don't think it's any more prevalent in snowboarding than in any other sport. I wouldn't say every other snowboarder is out puffing a joint."

Coming into the Olympics, Rebagliati was not expected to win a medal, much less the gold. But Canadian teammate Mark Fawcett, the favorite, broke his board on the competition's first run.

Rebagliati was in eighth place after the first run but leapfrogged in front of several more established riders in his second run to claim the historic medal.

The 26-year-old, who lives in Whistler, British Columbia, became something of an instant celebrity in Canada and has also become quite popular here. At his medal ceremony in Nagano's Central Square, fans broke through a security barrier and began asking him for autographs. Soon he was mobbed, and one fan tried to pull his gold medal from his neck.

At the time, Rebagliati said he liked the attention.

"Any time you devote your life to something for 10 years, you expect something back," he told the Calgary Sun.

After his win, he also told reporters he was one of the "new Crazy Canucks."

Unless the disqualification is overturned on appeal, it would mark the second time Canada has lost a gold medal because of a positive drug test. In the 1988 Summer Olympics, Ben Johnson was stripped of his gold medal in the men's 100 meters after testing positive for an anabolic steroid.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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