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    Thursday, February 12, 1998

    IOC lets Rebagliati twist in the wind

    By CHRIS STEVENSON -- At The Olympics

      So now we know that wasn't fog at the top of Mt. Yakebitai that delayed the start to the men's snowboarding slalom.
     They opened the door to the starter's hut and ... well, you know the rest.
      The jokes have been coming fast and furiously.
     Such as: The beauty of Ross Rebagliati's performance in winning the slalom gold was that he thought he was going in a straight line.
     Or how he's in the wrong discipline ... he should be competing in the full pipe.
     Funny, eh?
     Well, what's happened to the 26-year-old snowboarder since Tuesday night has seemed like a bad joke.
     Taking away a guy's gold medal because he tested positive for marijuana isn't what drug testing in sports is supposed to be about, is it?
     Like Dr. Andrew Pipe, Canada's drugs-in-sports guru, has said, getting a buzz on before snowboarding isn't necessarily a good idea.
     International bodies can't even agree on how the topic should be handled. The majority of international sports federations turn a blind eye to the use of marijuana. It's not on their list of banned substances.
     It's a social drug which is legal in a lot of countries. Unfortunately for Rebagliati, it is very frowned on in Japan and he could also have to answer to the law.
     Whether or not you believe Rebagliati's grassy knoll, second-hand smoke defence, the fact remains cannabinoids in marijuana hurt performance rather than enhance it.
     Pipe, who has been one of the leaders in the fight to ban drugs from sports, has taken up the cause and provided some of the data Canadian Olympic Association officials used in Rebagliati's appeal.
     It is possible, Pipe said, that the minuscule traces of marijuana in Rebagliati's system are the result of second-hand smoke.
     "It's a bit like when somebody goes to buy insurance and there's a lower premium for a non-smoker," Pipe said. "They might be tested and not get the non-smoking premium because there are trace elements in their sample because they were at a party where there were a lot of people smoking the night before -- or two nights before."
     That fact seems to be recognized by most sound-minded people outside of the international ski federation.
     About 80% of the people who responded to a poll on the Slam! Sports internet site said Rebagliati should be allowed to keep his medal.
     Canadian Olympians tend to take a more narrow view of anything to do with drugs.
     Cross-country skier Sara Renner had little sympathy for Rebagliati's situation. She said the accusations surrounding him will make other people in the Olympic Village and the venues look sideways at anybody wearing a maple leaf.
     "People are going to laugh and say, 'There go the pot-smoking Canadians,' " the 21-year-old from Canmore, Alta., said.
     She was one of the few Canadian athletes who would speak out on the issue. Most had been issued gag orders by their team leaders.
     "I think in snowboarding they're pretty good athletes and we were so proud when he won. It's just really, really disappointing. You're proud to see his picture on the front page of USA Today. He'll be back on there again. It's going to say Canadians are smoking pot and that's going to be a bigger story, unfortunately."
     No matter what the outcome of Rebagliati's situation, it seems only fair that the International Olympic Committee should level the playing field at the Olympics and standardize what is legal and not legal across the board.
     That Rebagliati should be subjected to what he's been through for the past 48 hours, while an athlete in another sport with the same test results would be labeled clean, is not fair.
     Chris Stevenson can be reached by e-mail at