Volume 95, Issue 67

Thursday, January 31, 2002
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A media frenzy, a security nightmare

Snowboarding: there's more to it than toques and marijuana

The Olympians the media ignores

Jocks: are they bug-eyed druggies?

Snowboarding: there's more to it than toques and marijuana

By Ashleigh Dumas
Gazette Writer

Is it possible to take Olympic snowboarding seriously when it features athletes who perform acrobatic feats known as McTwists, ollies and stalefish?

Yes – but not just because they wear cool hats.

According to Chris Dornan, spokesman for the Calgary Olympic Development Association, snowboarding has quickly been gaining popularity over the last decade. A sporting cousin to skiing, riders are attracted to the sport, because it is relatively easy to learn and you can progress quickly, Dornan explained.

Snowboarding made its Olympic debut at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan. The four event categories included both mens' and womens' halfpipe and giant slalom, Dornan said. This year, giant slalom will be replaced by parallel giant slalom, in which two riders compete simultaneously on side-by-side courses, he added.

J.S. Bidal, administrative co-ordinator of the Canadian Snowboard Federation, said the change to parallel giant slalom will increase the television friendliness of the event.

Snowboarding is becoming a legitimate sport, despite the stereotype that the athletes involved are pot smokers, said Sally Rehorick, chef de mission of the Canadian Olympic Association.

"Our snowboarders are very high performance athletes who train just as hard as any other athlete," she said. "They deserve just as much respect for making their sport look graceful."

At the Nagano Olympics, Canadian snowboarder Ross Rebagliati won a gold medal, only to have it stripped away because a positive drug test identified marijuana in his system. His medal was later re-instated due to the relatively low level of marijuana in his system and the decision that marijuana is not considered performance-enhancing.

Jessica Kennedy, VP-communications for the Western Snowboarding Federation, said it is unfair to label snowboarders as potheads. "Snowboarding culture is just about feeling pure enjoyment for the sport and the feeling of accomplishment when you have a really great run."

"Our sport has been unfairly classified as a marijuana sport. [That] doesn't speak of the sport at all," Kennedy said.

Bidal said snowboarding is a legitimate sport and he refuses to accept any criticism of its athletes. "It is obvious our athletes put in the same amount of effort, if not more than other athletes. They train under the same conditions as skiers, they just use different equipment," he said.

Currently, Canadian competitive snowboarders train in Europe, where the conditions are ideal, Bidal said.

But that may soon change. "Recently, CODA announced a $190 million project to develop a dry land training site in Canada, so athletes can train year-round," he said.

"This project will benefit alpine skiing, snowboarding and freestyle skiing, which combined account for 25 per cent of the [medal categories] at the Winter Games," he explained.

As snowboarding enters its second year as an official Olympic sport, Canada's snowboarding team is strong and poised to excel, he said. Jasey Jay Anderson (parallel giant slalom) and Natasza Zurek (halfpipe) are two Canadians favoured to win in their respective categories.

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Copyright The Gazette 2001