Welcome to the Olymp-X
Surfing? Skateboarding? Rock climbing? This isn’t the Games that you know. But does the IOC know what it’s trying to accomplish?
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O ne day, outside the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, they will erect a statue of Ross Rebagliati. It will stand ten metres tall, towering over the gaudy gimmicks of physical excellence that otherwise crowd the entrance: a high jump bar set at world-record height, a long jump pit denoting the world record leap, the farthest distance a man and woman have hurled a shotput. For the statue’s plaque, they will steal from Sonny Liston’s tombstone in Las Vegas, tweaking for adjectival effect the greatest epitaph in sport. It will read: “Ross Rebagliati. An Olymp-X man.”
Wait, Ross who? Rebagliati is a Canadian who holds a special place in Olympic history. He was the first winner of a snowboarding gold medal, back when the sport was introduced to the Winter Games program at Nagano in 1998. He was also the first gold-medallist done in for likely lighting up a doobie, or partying in a doobie-intensive environment, when he was stripped of his medal three days after competition for testing positive for THC, a constituent of marijuana.
Rebegliati, however, never gave his medal back, and ultimately was allowed to keep it after embarrassed Olympic officials, desperate to back-pedal out of a first-up international controversy for the sport, ruled it was, well, um, okay by them if a snowboarder tested positive for a little weed. Bong on, Rossy!
The Rebagliati saga is raised here because it was the first time that Gen-X sports collided with more than a century of Olympic tradition. Snowboarding, back then, was the cultural crisis that was to destroy the Olympic movement.
The Summer Games had just survived the introduction of beach volleyball – Sand! Bikinis! Fans having fun! – at Atlanta 1996, and now came snowboarders, with their baggy clothes and dyed hair and freespirited lifestyle choices. Not a beigecoloured blazer between the bunch of them! The old men of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) harrumphed all the way back to their free bar.
The first snowboard goldmedallist, Ross Rebagliati of Canada: the patron saint of the Olymp-X.