Red, Gold and Green: A Conversation with Olympic Golden Snowboarder Ross Rebagliati
By Jason Reed
As the world looks upon Sochi and the displays of icy greatness, the Winter Olympics is sure to create new heroes for us all to admire. Ross Rebagliati was no exception. The young Canadian was the first ever Olympic snowboarding gold medallist. Ross hit the headlines in Nagano’s 1998 Olympics, but the ride was far from smooth, and some irrevocable bumps forever litter the route of Ross’ golden achievement.
I started competing in ‘88, so it was essentially 10 years preparation for me to reach the 1998 Nagano Olympics. I was used to competing at senior level, but the Olympics are a different ballgame. An untold amount of preparation goes in; I was in the gym 3 hours a day, 6 days a week, lifting weights, cycling to stay in shape; we were on snow 200 days a year just training. It’s an unbelievable amount of time and sacrifice. You have no social life other than the people around the snowboarding scene. After a few months of being on tour, the phone stops ringing.
Ross, now 43, tries to describe the unrelenting emotions that come with gaining a sport’s highest accolade,
Words cannot describe the sense of accomplishment when I actually won gold. The fact it’s all over is a relief. I had won, finally won, and it’s all worth it. To have the recognition that my peers respected me as an athlete began to hit home. That said, nothing is how you’d expect it. It took a while to sink in.
The buoyant celebrations soon became marred.
It was the next morning, we had the award ceremony and all the guys had finished their events. It was at this point that a few of us were in my room. A coach came in and told everyone to leave and that I needed to sit down. It was obvious something was up; I figured that it had to be something to do with the drug test given the timing of it all. I told my coach very early on that the only thing I could think of was that I showed positive for marijuana as it was the only thing I had been exposed to leading up to the Olympics. It was then discussed, ‘Ok, it won’t be the biggest problem in the world’ – I wouldn’t be the only athlete to test positive to cannabis and still retain the medal. There have been cases in the past where it’s all worked out.
After Ross was stripped of the gold medal, it soon became clear that there was a grey area – a very curious twist in the tale:
THC wasn’t on the banned substance list. This then begs the question: Why even take the medal away from me? It must have been embarrassing for the IOC to try to strip me of my medal for testing positive to a substance that wasn’t actually banned. It’s frustrating; my athletic accomplishments were overshadowed by what preceded. I became infamous for the wrong reasons.
We had stayed away from it [marijuana] on the world circuit. THC was banned, so we just assumed, and we didn’t question the IOC. We simply stayed away from all substances. Snowboarders are kind of a big family, so we don’t tend to want to enhance ourselves to outdo a fellow competitor.
It’s interesting to note that The World Anti-Doping Agency has now changed the threshold of THC in an athlete’s system from 15 nanograms per millilitre to 150 nanograms per millilitre. The decision was taken in May 2013 so as to minimise cases such as Ross’.
Ross Rebagliati continues,
There were a lot of parties. There was a wake on the lead up to the Olympics for a friend who was buried in an avalanche, and there was a lot of marijuana consumed around at this tragic event, but I hadn’t been smoking it myself at that time. I wasn’t consuming marijuana, but I also didn’t think I’d have to change my environment or alienate myself from my friends; I just wouldn’t use marijuana, it’s that simple really.
Retrospectively, and with cannabinoids shrouded in cultural ignorance, how did Ross’ countrymen react to him after the 1998 incident?
Instantly, there was an almost social revolution on the back of it. Canadians were very excepting of cannabis, so I received so much support. I came home to a hero’s welcome. The Prime Minister of Canada called me after I got my medal reinstated. He said that the country supported me and that I had handled myself really well. I had spent a night in a Japanese jail, so as you can imagine, when I was celebrated in such a way, well, that meant a lot to me.
It became apparent that culture had changed. People were open to sensible discussion on marijuana, and were ready to actually explore the benefits. I’m not sure if it’s more or less of a controversial issue now. It’s certainly a lot more mainstream. As we all know, Colorado and Washington have fully legalised, so things have certainly come on culturally.
Ross Rebagliati is now embarking on a new trail:
We’re starting up Ross’ Gold here in Canada. There are new federal laws which we’re aligning ourselves with. We’re going to roll out extensions of the model in tandem with what laws will allow. Our government is a conservative government, but they are relaxing the laws so more access can be granted to medical marijuana. The red tape is getting cut a little.
Not only is Ross Rebagliati now in the process of starting his own medical marijuana programme in Canada under the symbolical banner of ‘Ross’ Gold’, but he has also become the go-to guy in media circles when cannabis and athletics become intertwined. Mild furore inevitably follows when an athlete is found with cannabis in their system, but times are certainly changing. The NFL are now in the process of early discussions; not only to turn a blind eye to THC in their football players’ systems, but they are further theorising as to whether to implement a medical marijuana programme for their athletes in efforts to curtail prescription drug dependency and promote harm reduction. The use of cannabis in sports has been contentious in the past, but now seems to be on a platform of legitimacy. Many supreme athletes such as Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt have admitted regular cannabis use, so what potential benefits could there be in sports? Referring to cannabis and high CBD strains under the moniker of ‘Ross’ Gold’, the gold medallist comes up with a spontaneous list.
Possible benefits for Ross’ Gold (cannabis) in sports?
- Ross’ Gold is the best jet lag cure. Makes for quick recovery from frequent long haul travel with different time zones.
- Ross’ Gold keeps appetite healthy for maximum fuel intake to sustain high output over the season. Often appetite is lost due to jet lag and the different eating and sleeping cycles.
- CBD is potentially one of the most powerful anti-inflammatory substances that we know of. It’s perfect for after workouts, post injury, post operation and general aches and pains from long term athletics; training, competing, or simply living life to its fullest. CBD is also incredible for anti-stress and anti-anxiety.
The list continues…
- Ross’ Gold is excellent for getting quality sleep, which in turn has several key benefits: Mental strength and muscle growth/recovery to name just a few. These are key elements for any athlete.
- Ross’ Gold is fat free, has zero calories; it can get you to bed early and up early in the morning feeling fresh and ready to go. No alcoholic hangover! It doesn’t impair your judgment like other substances, and it does not impair your physical ability.
- Ross’ Gold is the safest drug known — there has never been a death associated with it. Early indication shows it could reduce some brain injuries due to concussions.
- It’s a responsible alternative to alcohol/tobacco use and is not physically addictive. And that’s just off the top of my head.
The wider issue of global cannabis policy is progressing, but what does Ross think of the immediate future?
We’re looking at a cultural issue; some countries are more open to the debate than others. We’re on a different platform now, the scientific evidence is there proving benefits and dispelling the propaganda. The economic benefits are too hard to ignore. There aren’t that many overnight multi-million dollar industries and we’re looking at one right here.
When politicians start seeing that this is a vote swinger, then you have momentum. We’re heading towards an election here in Canada and some are using the legalisation issue as their platform. I think we’re at that crucial stage now.
So many people use marijuana responsibly. I clearly do not advocate underage use, or to consume irresponsibly, but the sheer amount of honest, normal, family oriented people that have lost jobs or freedom over their marijuana use… how can we justify this? We’re still maintaining this policy that rips families apart simply because of the law. The only people that profit from this are the underground industries and organised crime.
Ross Rebagliati concludes,
Global change is happening faster than we expected. As I said, once we see politicians riding the bandwagon, you know something is changing, and when it does, it’ll change quickly.
*Note – Ross’ Gold will be rolled out in Canada under the following model; Ross Rebagliati takes the time to explain:
We’re going with an e-Commerce based operation which will be in compliance with new Canadian federal law. We have partnered with producers across Canada who will be supplying our distribution centre. We will fulfil prescriptions and have next day delivery via bonded courier from our distribution centre. In addition to this we will be offering our patients actual medical clinics where they can see our accredited physicians (doctor or nurse practitioner) for professional advice, recommendations, and potentially a prescription. Patients would receive a personal prescription identification code that they would use to access our web based dispensary system. Once the patient has successfully used RossesGold.com to obtain their prescription and received next day delivery via bonded courier; the Ross’ Gold container itself is the legal entitlement to possess the medicinal cannabis. It will look like a regular prescription.
We have four categories: Ross’ Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze. All will be used to categorise our strains based on THC and CBD ratios. Platinum will have the highest THC levels (+20%) and Bronze will have virtually no THC but rich in CBD.