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    Friday, February 13, 1998

    He's a winner ... again

    By STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

      Ross Rebagliati triumphantly pumped his fist in the air yesterday and waved his gold medal in celebration of a second chance at happiness.
     "I won my medal for a second time," Rebagliati said with a hint of both elation and sadness in his voice.
      The snowboarder from Whistler, B.C., also described in detail his four days of hell after testing positive for marijuana at these Olympic Games and the feeling of having the world crash down upon his shoulders. He also attempted to describe the elation he felt two days ago when the Court of Arbitration for Sport voted to reinstate his medal -- without imposing any penalty.
     "When I won the medal, it was the best moment of my life," said Rebagliati, who captured the gold on Sunday. "When I got the news that I had tested positive, it was the worst moment of my life. I felt light-headed, I felt cold, I started to sweat. I had to sit down. It was something I couldn't believe."
     The 26-year-old handled himself with extraordinary poise yesterday.
     Rebagliati refused to dump on the International Olympic Committee for stripping him of his medal and for essentially changing his life over a minuscule amount of marijuana that was found in his system.
     He also refused to condemn his pot-smoking friends back home in Whistler, or the use of the drug itself. But he stressed that his days as a marijuana smoker were over. In fact, Rebagliati spoke passionately of those who supported him throughout his ordeal, particularly his friends. Rebagliati, who admitted using marijuana up until last April, said that while the pot goes, his friends stay.
     "I'll never be judgmental of any of the friends I have," the personable snowboarder said. "I have friends all over the world, from all walks of life. I have friends in high places and I have friends in low places and I'd rather be with them than against them."
     Part of Rebagliati's defence was that the traces of marijuana in his system may have been the result of his attending a party Jan. 31 in Whistler, where virtually everyone was smoking marijuana.
     "I'm not going to change my friends," he said. "I just may have to wear a gas mask from now on."