Tuesday, February 17, 1998
Ross returns to hero's welcome
Ross Rebagliati's home town pulled out all the stops Tuesday to honor its hero, home from the Olympics and a high-profile marijuana ordeal.
TV cameras from Canada and the United States covered the bash at the posh resort north of Vancouver, where thousands jammed the village square to cheer their Olympic snowboarding hero.
"You guys are great," Rebagliati yelled to the huge crowd as he stood on a covered stage wearing his gold medal and his red-and-white Olympic jacket.
"You guys rule," he said to more cheers before thanking everyone for their support when he tested positive for a tiny amount of pot.
As the crowd -- people of all ages -- waved Canadian flags, Rebagliati also thanked his grandmother, father and sister, who joined him on stage.
Mayor Hugh O'Reilly, who acted as master of ceremonies, earlier asked the crowd to go dopeless.
"I'm going to anticipate that people behave themselves, but I can't control them," he said. "This is Ross's moment -- that wouldn't do him any good.'
Rebagliati won the first Olympic gold medal in snowboarding but lost it after the marijuana showed up. He said it was due to second-hand smoke and an appeal reinstated his medal.
This tourist-dependent community of 8,500 stuck by him throughout the ordeal.
"He's been so removed," said O'Reilly. We haven't been able to get close to him, touch him, have him talk to us one-on-one.
"I think people are really excited just to see that, have that opportunity to kind of yell and scream and let him know that he's done a great job and we're really proud of him."
Rebagliati, 26, arrived in Vancouver early Tuesday after a late-night flight from Los Angeles, where he taped a segment of the Jay Leno show.
The talk-show host, with a week's worth of jokes about stoner Canuck snowboarders under his belt, ribbed Rebagliati about the reason he tested positive for pot.
"So unlike Clinton, you inhaled but didn't smoke," said Leno. "He smoked but did not inhale."
Rebagliati, who admitted smoking marijuana until last April, said Monday he has sworn off pot for good and would like to act as an anti-drug spokesman for youth.
"I don't want to see kids thinking they can take drugs and have a good life," he said.
Messages of support for Rebagliati that covered Whistler windows while his medal was in jeopardy last week were exchanged for welcome signs Tuesday.
"We're all excited about Ross's big gold," said snowboarder Mike Johnson of Toronto, visiting Whistler friend Sean Lucky.
But Johnson was less pleased with media hype surrounding Rebagliati's positive drug test.
"It seems to have been turned into a bit of a circus, if you ask me," he said. "It seems like everyone's making a big joke out of it, especially the American media."
Johnson and Lucky don't think the controversy will do the sport much good.
"They're not putting a very positive spin on it," said Johnson. "Everybody's talking about Ross the weed-head. They're not talking about Ross the gold medallist."
Rebagliati plans to rest for a few days before returning to the snowboarding world tour, which resumes in Germany later this month.