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After bringing new meaning to "Olympic Gold," Canadian snowboarder Ross Rebagliati returns to a festive welcome

Dispatches, May 1998

Some Kind of Hero
After bringing new meaning to "Olympic Gold," Canadian snowboarder Ross Rebagliati returns to a festive welcome
By Bill Donahue

On a blustery, gray day in Whistler, British Columbia, we gather shoulder-to-shoulder with necks craned, waiting for the conquering hero to appear. "Smoke a Fatty for Rebagliati," reads the bumper sticker being hawked by vendors in the town square. All about them, the air thrums with a dope (literally) new sound: Rossmusic. Local cannabis advocate Stephen Jiu is singing a Dylanesque ballad, with the rather unfortunate refrain "They made you like a zero / But you're, you're our hero." Nearby Mike Vollmer, the singer for a Whistler band called the Dank Nuggs (local slang for "killer spleef"), is readying to do the tribute thing himself, on the stage high above the throngs. "Psychedelic everything," is how he describes his ensemble's paean to pot, "Olympic Gold."

We are here, of course, to welcome home Ross Rebagliati, the 26-year-old slalom snowboarder who won a gold medal at the Nagano Games, had it revoked when his urine test revealed the presence of 17.8 nanograms per milliliter of cannabis metabolite (the legal limit is 15), and then got it back on a technicality. More than 7,000 of us have congregated, many apparently hoping to see Rebagliati admit that he had indeed sparked and triumphed. But as he trots into sight sporting his fifties-style Canadian Olympic Team varsity jacket, he seems more Richie Cunningham than Tommy Chong. "Whistler Rules!" he shouts, before dragging his grandmother, Sylvia, onto the stage. The emcee, somewhat desperate, initiates insipid chatter.

"What's your favorite food?" he asks Ross.

"Hash brownies!" a spectator bellows with hope.

"Honey and Nut Corn Flakes," replies Rebagliati.

Not that the performance is surprising. Rebagliati has just signed on with the star-making agents of IMG, presumably hoping that his medal, along with his farm-boy look and aw-shucks grin, will lead to endorsements aplenty — as long as he sticks with his story that secondhand smoke from the mouths of his buds led to the positive test. Never mind that toxicology experts are dubious, to say the least. "It's impossible," says Dr. Steven Karch, editor of The Forensic Drug Abuse Advisor. "Government studies have been done to test the effects of secondhand smoke. They locked people in closets and blew so much marijuana smoke at them, they had to wear goggles. And still they didn't test 15 the next day."

So for public consumption, at any rate, wholesome Ross it is, though there have been rumors that the real Ross will shine forth at a restaurant gala enticingly titled Ross's Private Party. There are just 200 lucky dogs on the guest list, so naturally a posse of sullen young shredders clusters outside, cursing the bouncer. "I just want to have a beer with the dude," gripes one, 19-year-old Bill Robbins. Another scales a 15-foot-high stone wall, and then a chain-link fence, to bust through the back entrance. His reward: a chance to see Ross nursing a Labatt and saying things like, "I just want to thank my family, my friends ... "

Officially, word is that Rebagliati went to bed at 9:30, jet-lagged from two days of travel. Whether or not this is true, the news brings an anticlimactic end to a day of musk-scented revelry. As for the question on everyone's mind — did he or didn't he? — perhaps the most insightful response came hours ago from none other than granny Sylvia. "Oh, it was nothing," she said. "What youngster hasn't taken some dried leaves and rolled them up in cigarette paper once or twice?"

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