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    Wednesday, February 11, 1998

    Ross goofed, but so did IOC

    By STEVE SIMMONS -- At The Olympics
      NAGANO -- Long before he was ordered to give up his gold medal, Ross Rebagliati was worried about the process of Olympic drug testing.
     He said so several months ago. He said so as the days led to the Winter Games. And even in the post-snowboarding news conference, where he was celebrating his victory, he again made reference to being spooked by drug testing for the very first time.
     It seemed off at the time. Nobody talks about drug testing in victory. Nobody makes those kind of references. So when asked about it, Rebagliati smiled and said, "Nobody in this sport is on performance-enhancing drugs or anything.''
     This is not a story of steroids. This is not another Ben Johnson situation. There is no need for an inquiry here.
     This is not a national disgrace.
     This is a story of snowboarding and stupidity. This is what happens when you let gonzo sports into the Olympic Games.
     This is the price you pay to have a Games that are made-for-television.
     The joke about the snowboarding world: You should probably be disqualified if you aren't smoking dope.
     So Ross Rebagliati smoked a joint and the International Olympic Committee reacted, as it does far too often, officiously and ignorantly. He smoked a joint. He was, to use the jargon of his sport, stoked. Remember, this is a sport that has an event called the half-pipe.
     And the Olympic motto is still higher, stronger, faster. So Rebagliati found another meaning for higher and instead of competing in the half-pipe, Ross Rebagliati smoked it.
     And the IOC didn't know what to do about it. So officials did the easy thing. They did the wrong thing.
     The medical commission, with a sordid history all its own, couldn't even begin to figure out what to do with Rebagliati's positive test result. The commission, which in the past has been accused of burying positive tests and looking the other way depending on who was doing the testing, voted a whopping 13-12 in favor of expelling Rebagliati.
     Now consider that for a minute. The numbers are important here.
     The vote was 13-12.
     This reminds me of the time I was covering the Calgary Flames and the players voted not to talk to me anymore. The vote was 12-11. Said Paul Reinhart at the time: "This team is so messed up we can't even decide on stupid things.''
     So the medical commission's overwhelming majority was 52% in favor of disqualifying the Canadian and 48% against. This is hardly a ringing endorsement of whatever it happens to believe in.
     Then the matter went before the IOC executive committee, another group you'd rather not have over for dinner. There are seven members of that committee. It should take four votes to disqualify Rebagliati.
     The vote was 3-2-2. Three against him. Two for Rebagliati. And two abstentions.
     Clearly, this isn't comfortable. Clearly, this is something new for the IOC to come face-to-face with. The votes by both the medical commission and the executive committee speak loudly on their own.
     They didn't know what to do. So they did the wrong thing. They made a decision when all their votes said indecision. The numbers say it all. The best thing to do was nothing.
     Imagine being Ross Rebagliati right now. Imagine seeing those numbers, seeing how they affect his life. One day, in downtown Japan, you are being mobbed. You are a genuine hero. A few days later you're a pothead.
     Yes, Rebagliati made a mistake. He got caught with small amounts of marijuana in his systems. That doesn't mean he doesn't deserve to keep his gold medal.
     It means he's not the sharpest knife in the drawer.
     The Canadian Olympic Association officials will now appeal on his behalf. But they will have no help from Dick Pound, the IOC vice-president from Montreal, who disqualified himself from dealing with the matter, claiming conflict of interest.
     The Canadian officials likely will argue that the amount of marijuana was minuscule and that marijuana doesn't in any way enhance athletic performance. The great flaw in the marijuana policy here is that any trace of the substance is considered illegal by the IOC.
     Almost certainly, the Canadian officials will ask that Rebagliati be warned, rather than disqualified. They may even talk about snowboarding being a new sport. And considering the flimsy nature of the vote to disqualify Ross Rebagliati, it shouldn't be unreasonable to assume that the argument can be turned around after some reasonable discussion.
     This is a little bit of marijuana at the Olympics. This is nothing more than that. The smoke surrounding the IOC ultimately has clouded the issue. Ross Rebagliati should be sincerely embarrassed, but he shouldn't lose his gold medal over this mess. That would accomplish nothing in the end.