Pubdate: Fri, 09 Feb 2018
Source: Hamilton Spectator (CN ON)
Copyright: 2018 The Hamilton Spectator
Author: Steve Milton
Page: S2


Twenty years ago this Sunday, when Ross Rebagliati was told he had
tested positive for a banned substance, he didn't have to ask which

It was THC, an active ingredient in marijuana, and it was going to
cost him the first Olympic gold medal ever awarded in

Three decades later, Rebagliati still has his gold medal, Canada is
five months away from fully legalized weed sales, Rebagliati owns his
own major medicinal cannabis supply company (the pun-ish Ross' Gold),
and snowboarding is a lot more mainstream.

If you were in Nagano 30 years ago, which I was, the whole thing had a
Ben Johnson feel to it …. with a lot more giggling.

I was, through popular vote, chosen by the Southam Olympic news team
to cover the story and didn't take it seriously - really, pot's going
to help you win? Pot?- until I got to the International Olympic
Committee news conference and realized in how many (way too many) IOC
member countries marijuana possession is considered a serious crime.
In some, punishable by death. The IOC table looked like the judges'
bench at a treason trial.

Anyway, it all worked out for Rebagliati and for the Olympics movement
too, if they only knew what side of the street to stand on to look at

The IOC had to be reluctantly dragged into the 20th century just
before it ended, and somehow they figured out their Games - both
Summer and Winter - were not reflecting where popular sport was going
and were not small-screen friendly. Their fan base was aging and the
made-forTV X Games were hustling all the young demographics.

So, starting in 1992, the Winter Olympics began adding sports such as
mogul skiing, following up over the next couple of Games with the
likes of aerials and, in 1998, snowboarding: the giant slalom and
halfpipe. It was the only one of the five new sports introduced in a
transformative 10-year period which wasn't demonstrated at a previous

It didn't need it: boards had already overrun ski hills around the
world although, curiously, they were still banned at the ski resort
which hosted the first Olympics snowboard events before the Games, and
for a short time afterward.

When Rebagliati's blood showed a level of 17.8 nanograms per
millilitre, it was 2.8 over the then-threshold for a positive THC
test. But since there were competing organizing bodies for
snowboarding at the time, and marijuana wasn't on an official list of
banned substances, the initial ruling was overturned, and Rebagliati,
who had never handed over his gold, kept on keeping it.

Rebagliati has always said what he said that first dark day: his
reading was the result of second-hand smoke at parties in Whistler.
The night after his medal was symbolically returned, he was on the
Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and instantly became the Johnson
alter-ego: a good-time symbol for a banned substance.

Since then, marijuana has been reconfirmed as a performance enhancing
drug mainly for its relaxation-inducing properties, but the threshold
for a positive test is now 150 nl/npg, and it's only 'illegal' during
competition weeks.

Other than the cold realizations I felt when I first saw the IOC
overreacting to Rebagliati's peccadillo, I didn't have much interest
in the technicalities of the story.

But I have been interested, over the years, the overall effect that
the snowboard and X-Gamestype sports cultures have had on the Olympic
culture. Although still formal (especially with security concerns),
it's relatively a lot looser than it once was, and that's not just
restricted to the athletes village.

I took up snowboarding immediately after Nagano - lots of folks did -
mostly because it was the first sport I saw on the new, huge, HD TVs
which were making a trial debut in the Sony headquarters there and it
looked great, but partly because its culture reminded me a lot of what
was attractive about the '60s culture: free-spirited, long-haired,
experimental and filled with well-intentioned camaraderie, even among

People often forget that many of snowboarding's legendary names had
threatened to skip the first Olympics to include their sport because
their own riderdominated association, the International Snowboarding
Federation, didn't have sole control but more, as one put it, because
snowboarding, "is not about nationalism, politics and big money."

But only Norway's Terje Haykonsen, the top half-piper in the world,
ended up missing Nagano. And as Shaun White has proven since, there
can be big money in Olympic boarding, even if that's still not what
it's about.

Strangely, among Nagano's Olympic newcomers were not only snowboarding
and women's hockey, but NHL-stocked men's hockey.

A couple of days before the Games opened, a few of the Canadian men's
hockey support staff, arena guys who'd been in the game forever,
arrived in Nagano. They went to the house that they were going to use
during the Games and which had been temporarily used by the
snowboarding crowd before they moved up the mountain. Apparently,
though, a couple were a bit late leaving.

"So we get in and I see a couple of kids bent over the kitchen sink
with green garbage bags over their heads," I overheard one of them
saying incredulously.

"And one guy takes the bag off and his hair is, his hair is, ...

I laughed, and almost cheered. And that, not Rebagliati's minor
'crime,' is what I most remember about snowboarding's Olympic debut.

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Veteran Hamilton Spectator sports columnist Steve Milton has pretty
much seen it all in his 40 years covering sports around the world,
and, in Being There, he will relive special moments from those
stories, from the inside out, every Friday. If there is a memorable
sporting event that you would like Steve to write about, let him know
at  Chances are, he was there.
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MAP posted-by: Matt