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1998 Nagano Olympics: Ross Rebagliati

On skates and skis and snowboards, Canadians are nothing short of spectacular. From cocky snowboarder Ross Rebagliati to shy speed skater Gaétan Boucher to prairie girl Sandra Schmirler, Canada has groomed some of the finest winter athletes to take the world stage. CBC Archives presents a selection of Canada's golden winter Olympians.

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The addition of snowboarding into the Olympic program was met with suspicion from both sides. Snowboarders raised concerns about maintaining their counterculture roots. The Olympic hosts, on the other hand, viewed the sport warily but hoped that it would boost interest with the younger generation. And then along came Ross Rebagliati, a 26-year-old free spirit who caused more controversy when the IOC threatened to take away his gold medal after he tested positive for cannabis.

A shocked Rebagliati maintained that he ingested second-hand smoke at a farewell party in Whistler. His assertion was met with some skepticism but after Rebagliati appealed the ruling, the IOC reversed its decision and allowed Rebagliati to keep his medal. In this CBC report, snowboarders celebrate and prepare a hero's welcome. A bewildered Rebagaliati makes the rounds and basks in his hard-fought, unconventional celebrity. 
• Ross Rebagliati was born on July 14, 1971, in Vancouver, B.C.
• Rebagliati is pronounced rehb-lee-ah-tee.
• In a 3-2 decision, the IOC elected to strip Rebagliati of his medal following his failed urine test. The panel normally would have included IOC vice-president Dick Pound. But Pound, a Canadian, abstained from voting for fear of seeming partial. Upon appeal, the IOC reversed its decision since IOC rules didn't explicitly list marijuana as a banned substance.

• As the IOC debated the controversial drug test, Rebagliati nervously anticipated his return home. He told Maclean's, "All I had in my head was Ben Johnson, and how everyone hated him. I was ready to fly straight from Japan right to South America. I wasn't even going to come home. For years. I was thinking for years."
• The stress of the situation took its toll on Rebagliati. He weighed 186 pounds on the day of his race and when he returned home five days later he had shed close to 20 pounds.

• "Unfortunately, I'm not going to change my friends for you. I don't know, I don't care what you think about that. I think my friends are real, and I'm going to stand behind them. I support them; I'll never deviate from that. I may have to wear a gas mask from now on, but whatever." - Ross Rebagliati to a press conference, Feb. 12, 1998.

• Not all Canadians supported Rebagliati during the trial. Outspoken CBC hockey commentator Don Cherry said that treating Rebagliati like a hero was wrong. "We shot poor Ben Johnson in the head. So what is it? Different kind of drugs and stuff like that?" he asked during an Olympic Coach's Corner. "I'm glad he got [the gold medal] back and I'm not going to crucify the kid but you kids out there, if you're watching, you don't smoke marijuana."

• After the Olympics, Rebagliati was the poster boy for Roots and developed his own line of snowboards. 
• Whistler-Blackcomb renamed one of its runs "Ross's Run" in honour of Rebagliati.
• A 1997 Angus Reid poll found that 63 per cent of British Columbians believed that smoking pot should be legalized. In comparison, 51 per cent of the rest of Canada supported the legalization of marijuana.

• Before the Nagano Olympics, Norwegian snowboarder Terje Haakonsen refused to accept the fringe sport's shift into the mainstream. At the time, Haakonsen was one of the top snowboarders in the world but he didn't compete at the Olympics because he believed then-IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch was an "Al Capone" type of figure. Samaranch was indifferent and replied, "All I know is this: those who don't enter don't win."

• Snowboarding was created in 1965 by Sherman Poppen. Poppen crafted the first snowboard out of two skis, glued together, for his daughter.

• At the 1998 Olympics, Canada put forth another impressive showing. The gold-medal winners included: bobsledders Dave MacEachern and Pierre Lueders, the curlers of Team Schmirler (Sandra Schmirler, Marcia Gudereit, Joan McCusker, Jan Betker, Atina Ford), snowboarder Ross Rebagliati, speed skater Catriona LeMay Doan, short-track speed skater Annie Perrault and the men's short-track relay team (François Drolet, Marc Gagnon, Eric Bédard, Derrick Campbell).

• Also at the 1998 Winter Games, the men's curling team (Mike Harris, Richard Hart, George Karry, Collin Mitchell and Paul Savage) won silver, as did figure skater Elvis Stojko, the women's hockey team, and speed skaters Jeremy Wotherspoon and Susan Auch. Bronze medallists included short- and long-track speed skaters Eric Bédard, Kevin Overland and Catriona LeMay Doan, and the women's short-track team (Christine Boudrias, Isabelle Charest, Annie Perrault, Chantale Sévigny and Tania Vicent).
Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Feb. 17, 1998
Guest: Ross Rebagliati
Host: Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Terry Milewski
Duration: 2:35

Last updated: February 12, 2014

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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