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Drug issue chases gold-medal snowboarder

By admin | January 26, 2010

By Marsha Lederman

The Globe and Mail Posted Monday,

January 25, 2010 9:27 PM ET

Ross Rebagliati’s 300-metre skateboard up the highway from Osoyoos yesterday was the closing of a circle for him; the restoration of his good feelings about the Olympics, just as they’re about to hit his home turf.

“That was very, very exciting, emotional,” Mr. Rebagliati, 38, said after completing his torch run on wheels, as his wife, bundled-up baby and parents tried to keep up on the side of the highway.

But once again the drug controversy he’s been unable to shake since shortly after his history-making Olympic medal in Nagano, Japan, re-emerged after his glorious Olympic moment.

Despite the imposition of a code of silence on Mr. Rebagliati by the federal Liberal Party, for whom he plans to run in the next election, the former Olympian spoke openly about his desire to see marijuana legalized.

“Prohibition didn’t work; this isn’t working,” he said after running with the torch, which some have even said resembles a giant joint.

“You look at the numbers; it’s not helping by throwing people in jail. I think the thing we can focus on is helping people with addictions, taking a proactive view.

How can we help people rather than throw them in jail?” Mr. Rebagliati was jubilant in his post-skateboard moment, and either forgot about his party’s edict that he not speak to the news media, or chose to ignore it.

The North Vancouver native and former Whistler resident won the first Olympic gold medal in snowboarding, at the 1998 Winter Games.

The good-looking blue-eyed blond with the winning smile and affable manner became an instant sports star. But when traces of marijuana were detected after a drug test, the controversy made him a household name.

“I had the opportunity for about 24 hours in Nagano to really feel that awesome ‘yes I won the Olympics’ feeling and it kind of went away after that,” Mr. Rebagliati said yesterday.

“I really wanted to represent Canada in a better light than that and today was really part of sort of healing that for me.”

He was ultimately allowed to keep his gold medal (he argued that he’d inhaled the smoke second-hand but the IOC’s decision was based on the fact that marijuana was not specifically banned). But the headline-making incident took a deep toll.

“A cloud was following me, plus everyone knew who I was. It’s like the perfect storm for someone to go into hiding, which is basically what I did for two years.”

He was unable to collect his mail, go shopping, or pay his taxes. “I was completely unable to function. I was in shock, actually, coming back.”
He has had more ups and downs in the years since: lawsuits and money problems.

Now, he is back on his feet, at least personally.

In 2004, he met professional hockey player Alexandra Axsen at a charity tournament in Toronto. Two weeks later, he proposed. Two weeks after that, they married.

“When I met him I had no idea who he was,” Mrs. Rebagliati said yesterday.

“He said that’s part of why he married me.” Three years ago, they moved to Kelowna. Last spring, they had a baby, Ryan.
“It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. It’s my biggest accomplishment,” Mr. Rebagliati said.

“The gold medal doesn’t even scratch the surface of having a baby.”

Mr. Rebagliati likes to sing to his son and play with him.

He attaches a Velcro skateboard to Ryan’s feet while he bounces on the Jolly Jumper.

It was in response to a question from The Globe about his baby that Mr. Rebagliati addressed the legalization issue: What will he say to Ryan about the drug controversy, once his son is old enough to hear about it elsewhere?

“I’m hoping by the time he’s old enough that this will be like prohibition was back in the day, where it’ll be like a joke, like, ‘Oh I can’t believe it was like that when you were a kid.’ Prohibition didn’t work; this isn’t working.”

Mr. Rebagliati will not bring up his pro-legalization stand, he said, when he runs in the riding of Okanagan-Coquihalla against Conservative Stockwell Day.

But he knows the issue will dog him on the campaign trail – just as it followed him down his torch route yesterday.

“I’m prepared for it to go in that direction,” he said.

“But it’s not part of my platform.”

Topics: Articles, CD-2nd, Spring 2004 | Comments Off

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