Volume 91, Issue 76

Thursday, February 12, 1998



Pot of gold

Bing, bong – the dream is dead. Or rather, it was murdered by the International Olympic Committee executive board.

Ross Rebagliati is a snowboarder. Sure, that's not reason enough to justify smoking pot, but as Canada's first gold medal was half-piped right out of the Whistler native's hands, it poses an important question – should testing positive for a banned substance that does not enhance performance result in the most severe penalty possible? No way, man.

But it seems sprinter Ben Johnson's steroid use in 1988 has injected a no-mercy objective into the veins of the Olympic decision-makers. Johnson was an embarrassment for Canada at the Seoul Olympics, but the country could fully understand why someone using a performance-enhancing drug was stripped of a medal.

Ten years later, in a sport where athletes could only enhance their performance if they attached a seat-cushion on their butt to prevent pain, a Canadian is being stripped of gold, integrity and a new sport's chance to prove it's worth – making an example of Rebagliati as if he too is a cheater.

There were other punishments the IOC, who voted 3-2 (with two abstentions) to strip the gold, could have opted for. They had the option of giving out a harsh warning instead of taking away the medal. But in the spirit of punishing Olympians – even those who commit disputable infractions – it seems precedent-setting is more important than salvaging the best athletes of the sport.

Snowboarding had a wild reputation before the athletes even landed in Nagano. One Japanese newspaper ran the headline, "Lock your doors, the snowboarders are in town." So when the very first medal was given out in the sport, the IOC specifically put snowboarders and their stereotypical image as marijuana users to the test. It is the only sport to be tested for pot thus far. Its first champion shouldn't lose everything just because the IOC wants to tame the sport's image.

Rebagliati has said that he hasn't smoked pot since last April, when he found out he was going to the Olympics. Combine that confession with the fact the IOC vote to take away the medal was a very close one and there seems to be a lot of doubt about whether the decision made was the right one. Prudence in this case, makes more sense than inflicting the harshest punishment.

Unlike the Johnson case, in which Canadians tried to distance themselves from the shame of cheating, people across the country are rallying to Rebagliati's defense. Jean Charest, Preston Manning and Sheila Copps are just some of the politicians who have spoken publicly in Rebagliati's defense.

The truth is, at the end of the day, if the IOC asks themselves who the fastest snowboarder in the world is, they will come to one conclusion: Ross Rebagliati. He won his race without drug enhancements. He won it fairly. It's time the IOC acted more like a committee of judges on sport –not morality.

To Contact The Editorial Department: gazed@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1998