Ross Rebagliati's book says drug test an attempt to keep snowboarding out of Winter Olympics
VANCOUVER - It's been over a decade since snowboarder Ross Rebagliati was caught in a storm of controversy after testing positive for marijuana at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics.
The winds from that storm continue to blow through Rebagliati's life. That's one of the reasons the Olympic gold medallist decided to write Off The Chain, An Insider's History of Snowboarding.
"I have a hard time believing it's been almost 11 years," Rebagliati said in a telephone interview from Toronto, where he is promoting the book. "It was a bit of a whirlwind and it continues to be.
"People were saying, 'Get your 15 minutes of fame in while you can.' That's why I felt like getting my book out there and capturing the last 15 minutes of fame, to be able to tell my story and have the opportunity to showcase snowboarding and how I was able to win the Olympics and move on from that."
The 153-page book, published by Greystone Books, traces the history of snowboarding from a toy called a Snurfer that an American named Sherman Poppen built for his daughter, to today's multi-million dollar industry.
It also follows Rebagliati's introduction to the sport, his climb through the competitive ranks and his experience at the Nagano Games. He made history by winning the first Olympic gold in snowboarding, was stripped of the medal because of the positive test, then had it returned after officials realized marijuana was not on the list of banned substances at the time.
"Thanks to both my fame and my infamy, my name is one of the most identifiable in the history of snowboarding," Rebagliati writes.
In the interview, Rebagliati said he is frustrated the international attention he received because of the drug test overshadowed his other accomplishments as a snowboarder. He had won major competitions and his picture appeared on the front page of major snowboard magazines.
"I knew this was going to be around forever," he said. "I was able to realize at the time this will change my life forever and I will never be taken seriously as an athlete."
In the book, Rebagliati sticks with his claim the positive test resulted from second-hand smoke.
"I smoked weed on tour because it relaxed me, and unlike alcohol, it did not result in hangovers or weight gain," he writes. "To be sure my results would be clear by the Olympics, I'd smoked by last spliff in early April 1997."
It wasn't until after the Olympics Rebagliati learned he had failed every drug test he had taken in the six months leading up to the Games, but was never told the results.
In the book, Rebagliati suggests his positive test at the Games was part of a conspiracy by some members of the International Olympic Committee and the International Ski Federation (FIS) who didn't want snowboarding at the Olympics.
"When the IOC finally allowed snowboarding as an Olympic event, it did so grudgingly, with the feeling that the sport's image was not appropriate for the Olympics," he writes.
"When I tested positive for marijuana during those pre-Games doping controls, the FIS said nothing so that, should I win at the Olympics, the IOC could seize the opportunity to show snowboarders what would happen if we didn't straighten up. . . I'm sure that many other snowboarders failed their drug tests for marijuana in the months leading up to the Games too. And if one of them had won the gold medal, the same thing would have happened to that winner. Too far-fetched? You decide."
The book also deals with the depression Rebagliati felt when he failed to qualify for the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake.
His efforts were hampered because he was on a list that made it difficult for him to enter the U.S.
For over a year Rebagliati brooded at his home in Whistler, B.C., and didn't even snowboard recreationally.
"Everything I had lived for over a decade came crumbling down around me," Rebagliati said in the interview. "It was up to me to sort of re-invent myself and focus on something other than snowboarding. It just didn't seem like a viable way to earn a living at that point."
The book is full of action shots of snowboarding legends like Tom Sims, Shaun Palmer, Shaun White and Rebagliati's inspiration Craig Kelly.
There are also lists, such as Ross's tips for boarding fast, the evolution of snowboarding, the greatest snowboarding advances and Rebagliati's favourite bands to board by.
Rebagliati, 38, is now married and operates a real estate business in Kelowna, B.C., with is wife Alexandra. The couple has a six-month old son.
While his book is based on snowboarding, Rebagliati said it also deals with the realities of life.
"It's a way for regular people to get a look inside what my life was like and how I turned a negative into a positive," he said. "That's really the main message.
"No matter what happens to you in your life, you always have an opportunity to make the most of it and . . . not fall into the depths of despair."
The Canadian Press
Dec. 3, 2009