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    Thursday, February 12, 1998

    Ross robbed of reputation

    By LICIA CORBELLA -- Calgary Sun
     Medal or no medal, Ross Rebagliati has been robbed by the International Olympic Committee.
     Had the IOC done the right and proper thing, Rebagliati would still be Canada's unsullied golden boy.
     Had the IOC done the right thing, the world never would have found out there were trace elements of marijuana in Rebagliati's urine at all.
     We would all be writing about sporting events instead of scandal. This wouldn't be an issue and we all wouldn't be worried about this tempting our country's youngsters into taking up dope smoking.
     Rebagliati, he of the bright face and blond hair, would still be hailed a hero instead of slammed by scandal.
     Now, no matter what great feats Rebagliati performs in the future, he will always be remembered as the pothead who managed to win an Olympic gold medal, only to see the benefit of such a feat go up in smoke.
     Gone are inevitable lucrative endorsements and parades.
     Indeed, when one looks at the cold, hard facts, one has to wonder if members of the IOC have been smoking the wacky tabacky themselves. Clearly, their vision and judgment has been clouded.
     Perhaps their minds were also made lazy by virtue of the fact they were dealing with a Canadian athlete and not, say, an American athlete. After all, sporting officials find it easy to push Canadians around and the reason for that is because we let them. Under the same circumstances, you can bet the IOC wouldn't pull such a stunt on an American or a German.
     But that's another issue. Let's look at the facts.
     Skiers and snowboarders are the only Olympic athletes being tested for marijuana use. Ostensibly, for safety reasons.
     The maximum allowable by skiing federation rules (and it's important to note, not IOC rules) is 15 nanograms, or 15 parts per million in a millilitre of urine.
     Testers in Nagano found 17.8 nanograms in his urine. Simple, right? He had too much. Nope.
     According to one of the world's top experts in this area, Dr. Siu Chan, the director of Calgary's Centre for Toxicology and head of drug testing at Calgary's 1988 Winter Olympics, there's a built in imprecision in any lab test.
     "Statistically speaking, we cannot take a number from a lab at face value," said Chan yesterday from his office at the
     U of C's Heritage Medical Research Centre.
     "We have been doing the legal analysis of marijuana in urine and my policy is if it's under 18 nanograms, we won't report it because there's a statistical chance that it's actually under 15."
     So there you go. There is a chance that the reading of 17.8 could actually be 14.9 or less. That's the science.
     "With that reading, they should have given the athlete the benefit of the doubt." Let's look at some other facts.
     Marijuana is not a performance-enhancing drug. It's a performance-inhibiting drug.
     Dope testing is performed on athletes to prevent cheating. Not to prevent recreational drug use. But most damning of all is how close the votes were initially. The Olympic medical commission voted 13-12 in favor of stripping the 26-year-old giant slalom winner of his gold medal. That's 13 to 12. It was too close to call. So they took it to the IOC's executive committee and the vote there was 3-2 with two abstentions, including one from a Canadian. Again, too close to call.
     So the drug amounts were too close to call. The votes were too close to call. The fact that the marijuana rule is a skiing rule and not an Olympic rule made it too close to call.
     So what did they do?
     They not only made a call, they decapitated a young man's dream on iffy evidence and questionable motivation. So who are the real dopeheads?
     Granted, Rebagliati was stupid. The IOC folk are thieves.