In 1998, Ross Rebagliati made history when he became the first snowboarder to receive an Olympic Gold medal. They day after he was awarded his medal was taken away. The reason? Rebagliati had THC in his system and failed his drug test.
First Snowboarder to Win Gold Makes International Headlines by Testing Positive for Weed
This was the first-year snowboarding was allowed in the Olympics, and in ’98 the sport had definitely not yet gone mainstream. It was the anti-establishment snow sport, part of the counterculture reserved for punks and misfits and people who smoked pot. Many resorts at the time still banned snowboarding.
World renowned snowboarder from Norway, Terje Haakonsen even boycotted the Nagano Olympics because he believed the Olympics were everything the culture of snowboarding was not. There were those however, that jumped on the opportunity to compete in the first Olympic Games that allowed snowboarding. It was a huge moment in history for the sport, as well as Rebagliati.
After he tested positive for marijuana however, everything changed. Rebagliati was given his gold medal back ten days after it was taken away because the International Olympic Committee (IOS) could not prove that marijuana was on the banned substances list. But for Rebagliati, it was all over.
No Escaping the Stoner Snowboarder Stereotype
All Rebagliati’s sponsors dropped him. His name was ruined. In the eyes of the entire world, he was the stereotypical stoner snowboarder. He said that after the positive tests results his “career was over.”
Rebagliati was crushed. “It took me quite a few years to accept…what happened,” he said.
In 1998, marijuana was much more controversial than it is now. This is 20 years ago, and California had only just legalized it for medicinal use. No one was openly talking about smoking weed, and those who were certainly weren’t Olympic athletes.
How Another Pot Smoking Gold Medal Athlete Helped Turn Rebagliati’s Life Around
A photo of Michael Phelps taking bong hits surfaced some ten years later, and suddenly everyone wanted Rebagliati’s opinion. He decided to come out of the shadows he had been hiding in since Nagano by showing his support for Phelps, as well as his support for marijuana.
“I went on the major TV networks to defend Phelps. I was the pro-pot athlete,” he said. “You might have thought I did that at Nagano, but to really come out and say that it is performance-enhancing and healthy, it blows people’s brains out. They don’t want to hear it. But it is the truth.”
A Canadian Cannabis Businesses is Born
In the years that followed, Rebagliati got deeply involved in Canada’s budding cannabis industry. This was before weed was legal in Canada, but the former Olympic Gold medalists believed this was the perfect time to begin a cannabis business venture.
“I felt like it was the right time—during prohibition—to get involved,” Rebagliati once said. “We wanted to be a cannabis company during prohibition. That was a point that we wanted to make. We wanted to push the envelope. We wanted the attention of not only my fans and the cannabis culture. We wanted to grab the attention of the government.”
Today, Rebagliati is the name behind Ross’ Gold, a cannabis company poised to become fully integrated into the cannabis market as legalization in Canada grows. He is also the co-owner of a well-established dispensary in Kelowna, Canada, where he lives with his wife and three children.
Rebagliati has gone from outcast to Olympic Gold medalist to outcast to budding business owner. His past is now behind him, and he is presently running a business he loves and truly believes in. He does after all, as he puts it, “have a beautiful brand with my name and picture all over it.”
“You can’t win all the votes,” Regagliati said, “but we can definitely help lead the way to cannabis reform at an international level if we can get these international associations to start recognizing the benefit (of cannabis).”