Thursday, February 12, 1998
From high times to hard timesA cynic might say you can't sully the reputation of snowboarders, those grungy dudes with baggy pants and wild hats who were all but chased off ski hills when they first appeared.
But many snowbarders were dismayed Wednesday by news of Ross Rebagliati's postive drug test for marijuana, fretting that it would damage their growing sport.
"For snowboarding it's always two steps forward and one step back," said Jamie Calon, a Calgary boarder.
The image of the snowboarder as party animal was reinforced Wednesday when star Austrian competitor Martin Freinademetz was turfed from the Nagano Games after a riotous party at his hotel during which he smashed furniture and a computer.
Austria's deputy team chief said Freinademetz had lost control during a late-night party at the team hotel on Tuesday night.
"He left Nagano. We didn't want any more trouble so we arranged for his accreditation to be cancelled so he could not return," Manuela Volvoda said.
"He destroyed a lot of stuff . . . there was serious damage."
The Nagano Olympics were to be snowboarding's coming-out party, the event that signalled the young sport's acceptance into the mainstream. But the Rebagliati case -- despite widespread support for the 26-year-old from Whistler, B.C. -- has once again raised questions about the future of snowboarding: Will it remain marginalized? Will it nonetheless become the Next Big Thing? Are they all dopeheads?
"I think it will hurt the image more than anything but I don't think it will really hurt the development of the sport," said Burt Campbell, the 24-year-old manager and part-owner of two Mission Snowboard and Skateboard shops in Calgary.
"Snowboarding has always been an underground sport, one that doesn't excactly have the best image. But now it's becoming a lot more accepted."
Others aren't so sure that will continue to be true.
"It's somewhat embarrassing to have a recreational drug use problem in your sport," Calon told CBC-TV.
"It's going to prompt any mom to say: 'What's going on here?'"
Snowboarding On-line, a webpage devoted to the sport, said the IOC and snowboarding had never been comfortable bedfellows. He called the disqualification a transparent attempt by the IOC to put the so-called "bad boys" of the fastest-growing winter sport in their place.
"This was their chance to strike back, and strike they did ... this is about the Olympics issuing a spanking to a sport that many within their ranks flat out fear," SOL wrote.
But Steve Jarrett, the senior editor at Snowboard Canada Magazine, doesn't buy that.
"It was the International Olympic Committee in the first place that decided they wanted snowboarding in the Olympics," said Jarrett, 40.
Nor does he think the stereotypical image of snowboarder is accurate.
"The Olympics have actually helped -- up until now -- to lose that label of being counter-culture, a renegade -- which really isn't true. These are, especially at the elite level, athletes who train like everybody else, 365 days a year."
Jarrett, whose magazine calls itself the largest sports magazine in the countryat an average of 164 pages an issue and a circulation of 70,000, figures snowboarding is growing too fast to be slowed by "grass."
"At the rate it's growing right now, the snow sports industry expects snowboarding to equal skiing on a participation basis by year 2000 in Canada and to equal skiing on on a worldwide basis by 2002 -- which, coincidentally enough, is the date of the next Olympics in Utah," Jarrett said Wednesday.
"Nobody sees that changing. Nobody is predicting all of sudden they'll be selling less snowboards or that they'll be any kind of downturn at all.
"I think they see this a just a blip on the long-term growth curve."
And some boarders want to point out that that image people have of snowboarders -- disrespectful, drug-smoking, anti-fashion punks -- is simply not true.
"Everybody has the image that snowboarders are already grungers, people to be looked down upon because they already do drugs," said Campbell.
"In reality, there's a lot of guys and gals out there who don't do drugs -- they're clean."