Ross Rebagliati is a Canadian snowboarder and the winner of first Olympic gold medal for snowboarding. His victory at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics was not without some controversy, however, as he tested positive for a banned substance.

On February 8th, 1998 Ross Rebagliati competed and won the men's giant slalom snowboarding medal. On February 11th the International Olympic Commitee announced that a banned substance was found in Ross Rebagliati's blood. Canadians went around muttering "Oh no, not again" and thinking about Ben Johnson - Canada's medal-winning sprinter who tested positive for steroids. The IOC then announced that the chemical found was THC - the active ingredient in Marijuana, and Canada released a collective sigh and slight giggle. Of course THC was found: Ross Rebagliati hailed from Whistler, B.C. and everybody knows that all B.C.-ites are pot-smoking liberal hippies. (Right, P_I?)

Then there was the question of why THC was banned in the first place. As a performance-enhancing drug it's a real let down - it reduces reaction time and coordination. Some cited the calming effects of the drug, with some comedians noting that you'd have to be high to fly down a hill on "one of them-there snowboards." Still, that's a pretty weak argument. THC's metabolic by-products are known to stay in the bloodstream for a long time, but not have noticeable effect in small concentrations such as Rebagliati's 17.8 nanograms per millilitre, which was just a hair over the International Ski Federation's limit of 15 ng/ml.

The substance was still banned, however, and thus it posed a problem: Ross could not get his medal. Ross's official explanation was that the THC came from second-hand smoke from a party he went to sometime before the Olympics. I questioned the validity of this statement and e-mailed my uncle, a clinical psychologist at McGill, hoping for some answers. He also expressed doubt, citing a study on second-hand pot smoke: Two guys toked a jay in a VW Bug while a third guy sat there breathing in the clouded air. Afterwards everyone had their blood tested over a number of weeks, and the reading of the non-smoking individual after a week was much less than that of Ross Rebagliati. (Now that I think about it, this must have been an interesting study to perform.)

In any case the IOC reversed its decision on the 12th and Ross was allowed to keep his medal. Ross Rebagliati plans to compete in the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.

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