Friday, February 13, 1998
Wood gives insight to police interrogationNAGANO, Japan (CP) -- There were times during Ross Rebagliati's seven-hour interrogation with Japanese police that the Canadian snowboarder came close to losing hope.
Brian Wakelin, Canada's chef de mission, and Michael Wood, head of the Canadian Snowboard Federation, both said today that Rebagliati neared his limit in the drawn-out discussions with police.
Wakelin, who was also interrogated in a separate room simultaneously, said he and Rebagliati met by chance on a couple of occasions in the Nakano police station's washroom.
"We compared notes," Wakelin said.
"Once, in the washroom, he was a tad getting to 'This is enough.' I told him to hang in there and he said 'I fought this far, so let's do it.'
Wood also said that from Tuesday (when the positive marijuana test was announced to the slalom champion) to Thursday (which he spent under the eye of the Japanese police) that Rebagliati came close to giving up.
Wood said there were moments when the snowboarder was fed up with everything and had come to the point where he was more concerned about what people thought of him than the fate of his medal.
Japanese police interrogated Rebagliati and Wakelin in separate rooms for about five consecutive hours, Wakelin said, and spent an additional two hours searching Rebagliati's room and belongings at the athletes' village near the snowboarding venue.
After four hours of questions about drug consumption, habits, and everything imaginable, both Rebagliati and Wakelin were read their rights, but were never charged.
The police questioned the two by often referring to stories in Japanese newspapers, which Wakelin said were often incorrect about details surrounding the positive test and the time of Rebagliati's exposure to marijuana smoke.
Wakelin said there were two interrogators, one translator, and two officers in the back of each room. The interrogators would change rooms from time to time to verify testimonies and often repeated the same questions.
"They went more in depth with him, they asked him more questions," Wakelin said. "They asked how I take would take drugs but I told them I wouldn't even know what it looks like. They asked me when Ross entered the country, if I believed him (about not smoking marijuana in Japan), everything.
"They tried to get him to admit he did it in Japan."
The police contended that marijuana could only stay in Rebagliati's system for three days, Wakelin said, which would mean he had to have smoked in Japan. That would have been an offence punishable by seven years in prison, Wakelin said, had the police not been dissuaded by the evidence and testimony provided.
After the first five-hour interrogation, Wakekin said about 20 police officers escorted the duo to the athletes' village near the snowboarding venue and searched Rebagliati's room and baggage, which had to be returned from the main athletes' village in Nagano, where Wood had taken it the night before.
"All there was in the room was an iron, a picture, ski goggles and a bar of Lever soap," Wakelin said.
Wakelin and Rebagliati, who were joined by Canadian Olympic Association president Bill Warren and Deborah Paul of the Canadian consulate in Japan, were escorted back to the police station. The police chief read a statement indicating there would be no charges and Rebagliati signed the document, and that was the end of the interrogation. By this time, the police and the Canadians had been informed that Rebagliati was again Olympic champion.
Warren and Paul waited in another room most of the day, Wakelin said, and were not interrogated.
"The police were very good to us," Wakelin said. "We were brought food and drink and we could go to the washroom when we needed to. They had to do this because of their protocol. Part of the problem was the slow translation."
Upon leaving the police station, Wakelin and Rebagliati delivered a prepared statement to about 100 Japanese journalists and three Canadians waiting outside.
Then they jumped into a car and "went for a drive," at Wakelin's request, to ensure they weren't being followed.
From the car, Rebagliati called his grandmother in Vancouver to give her the good news. It proved to be an emotional conversation.
There was another headache when Wakelin tried to get Rebagliati in the back door of the athletes' village in downtown Nagano only to find Rebagliati's accredition had been cancelled -- because the snowboarding events are over, not because of the drug test, Wakelin said.
The duo had to go to the front of the village, where Rebagliati had his photo taken for another accreditation card. This time, in the photo, he is holding the gold medal.
"That's a one-of-a-kind right there," Wakelin said of the photo. "Then we entered the village and Brendan Shanahan stood up and started applauding. The other hockey players and the rest of the athletes joined in the standing ovation.
"And that's why I brought him there," Wakelin concluded with his eyes in tears. "It was what he needed... to be with athletes."
Shanahan invited him to watch the Canada-Belarus hockey game this morning and asked him to visit Team Canada in the dressing room. There's no word on when Rabagliati will head home but it will likely be sometime next week.
When he left the village this morning to meet with journalists, Team Canada officials Bob Clarke, Bob Gainey and Pierre Gauthier approached Rebagliati and told him to answer only the questions he wanted to address, however he wanted to, Wakelin said.
Canadian figure skater Victor Kraatz walked up to Rebagliati's table, looked down at the table, and said: "I just want to see what breakfast champions eat."