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Rebagliati inducted into B.C. Sports Hall of Fame

Snowboarder to join hockey legends, other Olympians in induction ceremony

It was Feb.8, 1998, at the Olympic Games in Nagano, where Whistler’s own Ross Rebagliati claimed the first gold medal ever awarded for snowboarding.

It was an exciting giant slalom race, with Quebec’s Jaysey Jay Anderson in front of the pack after the first run, and Rebagliati securely in eighth place. Mark Fawcett, the favourite to win the medal, blew out a binding on his snowboard on his first run, and would have to watch the race from the sidelines.

With fog closing in and the first wave of riders scraping all the snow off the course, Rebagliati had the run of his life. He nearly lost control a couple of times, and swept wide on two of the gates in a steep middle section, but never slowed down and stayed on his edge.

The run was good enough to launch him to the top of the leader board, where he stayed as the remaining snowboarders tried to close the gap. A few came close, but in the end it was Ross Rebagliati in first, just two one-hundredths of a second ahead of Thomas Prugger of Italy and 0.12 seconds ahead of Ueli Kestenholz of Switzerland.

While the race was as close and exciting as it gets, it was the events that followed that truly made Rebagliati a world phenomenon.

On Feb. 10, the International Olympic Committee stripped Rebagliati of his gold medal after they discovered that he had tested positive for a small amount of marijuana. The Olympic Court for Arbitration of Sport, after strenuous protests were made by the Canadian team, voted unanimously to return the gold medal to Rebagliati. They ruled that while marijuana is a banned IOC substance, the International Snowboard Federation, which regulated snowboarding at the time, did not test for marijuana as a performance enhancing substance.

The medal was returned to Rebagliati the following day. For his part Rebagliati claimed that he had last smoked marijuana a year before the Winter Games, and that the positive test was likely the result of second-hand smoke.

While a small controversy raged, Rebagliati kept calm, stuck to his story, and became an overnight celebrity. He also refused to condemn his friends for smoking marijuana around him, something which further elevated his public image.

Rebagliati’s achievement became a defining Olympic moment for the 1998 Winter Games, and he became a Canadian hero for the way he raced and the way he carried himself through the controversy.

At home almost 5,000 people turned out to welcome Rebagliati home to Whistler on Feb. 17, an event that is still remembered as one of the best parties Whistler has ever hosted – up there with Rob Boyd’s 1989 World Cup downhill win at home and the announcement that Whistler and Vancouver would be hosting the 2010 Winter Games. A small park was named Ross Rebagliati Park in his honour, and Whistler-Blackcomb renamed Gandy Dancer as Ross’s Gold.

Now, almost seven years later, Rebagliati has been inducted into the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame, alongside former NHL players Stan Smyl and Ivan McLelland, Olympic kayaker David Ford, and baseball player Arnold Hallgren. Other inductees include the 1964 Vancouver Carling Lacrosse Club and the Vancouver Asahi baseball team in the Pioneer category, and swimmer Marion Lay and track and field star Jane Swan in the Builders category, and Jim Taylor in the Media category. The W.A.C. Bennett Award, which is given to individuals that make a lasting contribution to sports in B.C., will be presented to Jack Poole, the chairman of the board for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Committee.

Formal induction into the Hall of Fame will take place in a ceremony in April of 2005, bringing the total number of members to 264, plus 45 teams.