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    Wednesday, February 11, 1998

    Fawcett calls IOC action 'farce'

    By DAN RALPH -- Canadian Press
     KANBAYASHI, Japan -- Olympic snowboarders rallied behind Ross Rebagliati on Wednesday night, with fellow Canadian competitor Michael Michalchuk leading the way.
     After completing his run in the men's halfpipe qualifying, Michalchuk flashed a small banner saying: Ross is the Champion, Give the Gold Back.
     "I made it because I believe in Ross, he won fair and square, he is the gold medallist, he is the world champion and no one can deny him that," said the 20-year-old from Calgary. "He was on top of the world, this should never have happened to him.
     "You can't do that to a person."
     Michalchuck said he wrote the slogan on a cloth hotel napkin the night before. His girlfriend handed it to him at the bottom of the course.
     Michalchuck also claimed the Canadian snowboarders were "misinformed" about the doping-control system, saying they didn't know the tests covered marijuana.
     "I don't smoke marijuana," he said. "Ross doesn't smoke marijuana, but when you are around marijuana, it can be in your system. He's innocent and should be cleared."
     "He's a fair competitor. He didn't cheat," added Vancouver's Maelle Ricker, compting in the women's halfpipe.
     One by one, after completing their twists and turns down the snow chute to blaring rock music, the snowboarders ripped the IOC's decision to strip Rebagliati of his medal for testing positive for marijuana.
     "He still won the gold medal to me," said U.S. rider Cara-Beth Burnside. "Everyone's just furious about it. It's not affecting his performance, c'mon. They're kicking people out for cough medicine."
     "It's ridiculous," said American Michelle Taggart. "There should have been some more investigating before they went and made it a public thing. Once they start testing other athletes, they're are going to be a lot more situations that come up. I just feel bad for Ross."
     Anita Schwaller of Switzerland said Olympics organizers were making a big mistake.
     "It's so ridiculous," she said. "No one's riding faster (because of drugs). It's not good for the image of the sport. It's not the riders who wanted to be in the Olympics. They wanted us. It's a more liberal sport."
     The snowboarders, competing in the Olympics for the first time, said they were angry that their counter-culture sport was being associated with drug use.
     "It's happened in other sports," American Shannon Dunn said. "It's not the sport. It's a person. You can't stereotype all snowboarders. All the people I hang out with in snowboarding don't do any drugs."
     Canadian snowboarder Mark Fawcett, meanwhile, said his teammates won't return any future medals won at the 1998 Winter Olympics as a sign of protest.
     There had been rumors circulating at the snowboard venue that Canadian snowboarders, in solidarity with their teammate, might refuse any medal that might be won.
     Fawcett said should any of the eight Canadians competing here win a medal, they'd likely make a statement in support of their teammate but that would be all the action they'd take.
     "No boycott," Fawcett said. "Rumors, rumors.
     "I don't believe there will be anything like that. The guys are here to compete for themselves, their country and for Ross."
     Fawcett, 26, of East Riverside, N.B., called the IOC's actions "ridiculous," and a "farce" because marijuana is not on the governing body's list of banned substances. However the International Ski Federation, which governs snowboarding, says its athletes can't have more than 15 nanograms per millilitre of the substance in their system.
     Rebagliati's urine test showed 17.8 nanograms per millilitre in his system.
     "I believe the IOC is pointing a finger at us and discriminating our sport," said Fawcett, a giant slalom specialist. "They invited us to the party and now they're slapping us in the face.
     "I think conceptually, the Olympics are an awesome, awesome event. I think, however, the politics put a big shadow over it, especially for a lot of the athletes, particularly the snowboard athletes."