Olympics 2008 Features
Rebagliati's incredible spin, from slopes to parliament (Feature)
By Sebastian Fest Feb 16, 2010, 18:44 GMT
Vancouver - From the snowboarding slopes to the Canadian parliament in Ottawa: everything seems possible in the life of Ross Rebagliati.
The Canadian will always be remembered as the man who won a gold medal, then was stripped of it, and finally won it again in a controversial incident that saw him test positive for marijuana.
'Good luck,' former Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau wrote in a napkin for Rebagliati back in 1990.
The two men had chatted at the sushi restaurant where Rebagliati worked as a waiter. Rebagliati, who is now 38, soon lost the small treasure, but he always remembered what Trudeau told him of his dream to become a professional snowboarder: 'Do it.'
And that he surely did. This hyperactive native of Vancouver left a major mark in Nagano 1998, when he became the first Olympic gold medallist in the history of snowboarding.
'I started snowboarding in 1987, when it was not even allowed in Canada. And barely 11 years later I had the Olympic gold hanging off my neck!' the red-haired Rebagliati recalls in an interview with the German Press Agency dpa in Vancouver.
'A French friend introduced me to snowboarding. I was fascinated. My father, who always encouraged me to do sports, was disappointed. 'You're going to ruin your future,' he told me.
But Rebagliati's father was wrong. His son was soon to become a star in the discipline that mixes skateboarding, surfing and skiing. The sport first emerged in the United States in the mid-1960s and soon boomed: the number of snowboarders doubled in the country between 1988 and 1995, even as the number of skiers fell by 25 per cent.
By 1994, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to include snowboarding in the list of sports for Nagano 1998.
Rebagliati will never forget that he was in a tiny room at a Japanese police station being questioned about the marijuana with his medal in his pocket when he found out he could keep the gold. The International Ski Federation (FIS) had decided not to count his case as doping.
'There were three of us: the police chief, a translator who knew about as much English as I knew Japanese, and me. We had been there for five hours when they told me that the medal was mine,' Rebagliati recalls.
The Canadian's positive test for minimum quantities of marijuana had got the IOC and the FIS into trouble. Many traditionalists at the IOC had long mistrusted that gang of uncontrollable snowboarding youths, most of whom smoked pot like others drink beer.
'Smoking was part of our culture in Vancouver and Whistler, but I stopped 10 months before Nagano. What happened was that a few weeks before the Games I went to two parties where there was a lot of smoking,' the Canadian told dpa.
The Brazilian doping expert Eduardo de Rose, a member of the IOC's medical commission, stressed that such an explanation is not reasonable.
'Canada argued that it was indirect smoke, but when we analyzed the result we came to the conclusion that it was not like that,' De Rose told dpa.
Rebagliati has put all this behind him - even the death threats of those who accused him of damaging Canada's image.
Now he focuses on his wife Vanessa and on his son Ryan, he rejoices over having written a book (Off The Chain) and he targets Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
'He is disconnected from society. Only an arrogant man can play The Beatles on the piano wearing a tuxedo,' Rebagliati says, recalling a controversial performance by Harper.
'We know that what he really wanted was to be the president of the United States. He was Bush's puppet,' Rebagliati says of the conservative statesman.
A candidate for the Liberal Party, which leads the opposition in Canada, the snowboarder was recently invited to dinner at the home of the party's leader, the historian and political scientist Michael Ignatieff.
'And I gave a speech before the Liberals at the Ottawa parliament without being an MP. That is something that had never happened in history, I'm like a star,' says Rebagliati, who undoubtedly has a good opinion of himself.
'Obama is also a lefty,' he jokes as he signs an autograph.
Rebagliati disagrees with Harper's decision not to attend the inaugural ceremony in Beijing 2008 - 'we do a lot of business with China' - and he hopes to get the votes of people under 40.
'What is happening is a sort of revolution, you have to go back to the 1960s to remember Canadians as interested in politics as they are now,' he says.
The date of the elections has not been set, but everything appears to indicate that there will be a new government in Canada in 2011, Rebagliati hopes. He is quick to give his own opinions, and he says that having Queen Elizabeth II as Canadian head of state is something of the past.
'Don't know what the official position is, but I think the Commonwealth is over. We have to move forward. To have the Queen apointing a governor general... I don't know'.