Snowboarder has had his highs and lows
There was a time Ross Rebagliati struggled to find the sunny side.
The low point came days after the biggest day of his life, when he emerged from being just another wild and crazy snowboarder to become Olympic champ.
Three days later, after testing positive for marijuana in his system, Rebagliati was stripped of his medal.
Remember, this was 1998, exactly 10 years after the Ben Johnson fiasco in Seoul, South Korea.
And now, here was this fresh-faced, innocent-looking Canadian kid who could pass for your paper boy and he was … a stoner?
“I was devastated that this was happening to me,” recalls Rebagliati, now 47. “Devastated for Canada to have to deal with another Ben Johnson story, and it was me who caused it.
“I didn’t sleep for days. It was a major struggle psychologically for me to put Canada in this position again. It hurt me that I was putting the Canadian Olympic team through this because our event was on the first day of the Olympics, and now the whole rest of the Olympics was my story and no one else’s story, and I felt shitty about that.”
Turns out weed was not on the list of banned substances; the medal was returned, and he was reinstated as 1998 Olympic snowboard champ.
There was a guest appearance on The Tonight Show where Rebagliati stuck to his story: he didn’t smoke weed. Rather, he ingested second-hand smoke (some of that, he says today, came at the wake of a friend prior to the Games. “There was quite a lot of consumption going on.”).
“Look, I smoked. I’ve never denied that,” he said. “I was using cannabis up until spring of 1997. We knew that THC would
stay in your body for quite some time, but we didn't know how long. I figured if I worked out and trained all summer and fall, I would be good to go by February. Participating in the Olympics was paramount.
“The night before my final race, I slept pretty good. If I was worried about something I'd taken, or something that was in my system, I wouldn't have slept a wink.”
Rebagliati tried to take his new-found celebrity and run with it, but his 15 minutes of fame was waning. He fell on hard times, and it started with him being banned from entering the United States. There was a real estate deal that went south and a relationship breakup.
So, isn't it ironic that Rebagliati has rebounded, thanks in part to his association with cannabis — the reason, it could be argued, he got into this mess in the first place?
“It took me a good 10 years to sort my life back together,” he said. “It's been a hard go.
“But I'm not the kind of guy who runs away from adversity. I enjoy a challenge, and this was a major cultural shift. It really put the onus on me as an individual to say, ‘Look, I'm an Olympic gold medallist and I use cannabis. It's good for me and it's good for you.'
“I believe millions of people will be able to use and enhance their day-to-day life through healthy living and healthy lifestyle.
“If you have a group of university students binge drinking in one room, and a bunch of university students smoking a joint in the other, which group do you predict is going to do better the next morning in class?”