Wednesday, February 11, 1998
Wasted on the way
Smoking out a snowboarder is hardly Ben Johnson material
Had Canada's Ross Rebagliati lost his gold medal because of somebody else's Acapulco Gold or Maui Wowie?
It was hardly a Ben Johnson type of scene here as Canada's Ross Rebagliati was stripped of his snowboarding gold medal for testing positive for marijuana, subject to an appeal in the next 24 hours.
What we're dealing with here isn't the centrepiece event of the Olympics and a 24-karat gold medal.
This is snowboarding, a first-time Olympic sport where the shredder dudes dedicate their medals to dead guys named Lumpy.
This was a 13-12 vote by the medical commission and a 3-2 vote with two abstentions by the International Olympic Committee's executive committee.
Too close to call, man.
And what we're dealing with here is an amount so minimal, Rebagliati's case that it was second-hand smoke could almost be considered believable.
Not that it stopped anybody from laughing when Canadian Olympic Committee head Carol Anne Letheren told the world that our shredder had testified it was in his system "because of the significant amount of time he spends'' in places where Mary Jane is around.
While there are extremely serious issues here - not the least of which is that marijuana is illegal in Japan and there's the question of whether he smoked the substance here or perhaps brought the substance here with him - there was a great deal of humor involved as this story went down.
This is snowboarding. This is marijuana.
Having your gold medal taken away and being banned from the Olympics could get you in the Snowboarding Hall of Fame.
As one wag put it, it's like, 'Way to go man, you had the gold medal and you *&%$#@ it away.' ''
You get the idea from the way the snowboarders have handled themselves here that they could throw the entire sport out on its ear, too, and it wouldn't bother them a bit.
My impression from the snowboarders is that they think of themselves as being too cool to be here straight, anyhow.
Then there's the other side of it. Maybe the guy deserves another medal. Marijuana, to most medical men, is not considered a performance-enhancing drug.
It's a performance-impeding drug. The reason the ski federation tests for it is for safety reasons.
Letheren said Canada is appealing because Rebagliati has testified he hasn't used marijuana since April of 1997.
Michael Wood, the Canadian team leader for snowboarding, admitted that Rebagliati had taken two pre-Olympic drug tests and tested positive both times, but both times was under the ski federation limit.
Letheren said a prime plank in the Canadian appeal is common sense.
"This could not have possibly affected the outcome,'' she said.
"This is clearly not a performance-enhancing drug.
'`We believe the appropriate penalty would be a severe reprimand.''
Wood read a statement from the medal-winning shredder and said he didn't come to the press conference because he's "devastated.''
Letheren suggested some IOC members may be trying to send a message.
"There's no question that they debated this and one of the issues surrounding this is a social issue,'' she said, pointing out that the drug is illegal in some countries and legal in others.
Francois Carrard was the designated speaker at the IOC press conference.
He cited rule 188.8.131.52 of the IOC Olympic charter.
He said Rebagliati had tested 17.8 parts per million, which is minimal. F.I.S., the international ski federation puts its limit at 15.0, however, and being that the IOC has no specific number, they went with that.
The press conference was held at 12:45 p.m. Japanese time Wednesday. Letheren was informed at 12:05. The positive tests had been confirmed on both samples the night before.
'It followed a lengthy debate,'' said Carrard.
"Everybody was fairly split on the issue.
'IT IS SAD'
"It is always sad to be facing such a situation. It was not an easy decision to take, frankly. Many people were not convinced of the necessity of applying it.
'`There was a long debate about it. They talked about it for a long, long time,'' he said of the medical commission.''
Asked if he could compare it to the Ben Johnson expulsion in Seoul, Korea, he answered strongly with one word.
Asked to expand on his "no'' he thought for a moment.
"Canada can say, 'there goes a gold medal.' For that I can understand. But you can't compare.''
No you can't.
That was serious. This is silly.