Border problems for boarder
Local snowboard hero Ross Rebagliati wont be lending his personal support to fellow athletes at the Salt Lake Olympics this week.
Late last month Rebagliati, who won the first ever gold medal for snowboarding at the Nagano Winter Games in 1998, was told by U.S. Immigration that he could no longer travel into the States as he had admitted to using marijuana.
Earlier this week immigration officials changed their tune saying Rebagliati could go across the border if he produced test results which showed he was drug-free.
But the 30-year-old boarder said all the publicity has changed his mind about going.
"The attention that Im getting now is just going to be a distraction to the Canadian Olympic team," he said.
"At this point in time they need to focus and I dont want to bring any attention that is not going to be positive and they can draw from.
"Ill be happy to stay here and watch it on CBC and not put myself in the spot light."
Some might interpret Rebagliatis not taking the test as an admission of drug use. But, he said: "They can interpret it any way they want, but my focus is our team in Salt Lake."
Rebagliati almost lost his gold medal at the 1998 Games after a routine drug test found traces of cannabis in his system.
He said the test was positive because it detected second hand smoke from a party.
During the investigation Rebagliati admitted he had smoked marijuana and that admission red-flagged his U.S customs and immigrations file.
Although he has travelled to the U.S many times since 1998 his Jan. 27 trip to a Las Vegas trade show for his sponsor, Vancouver-based Arc Teryx, was the first time U.S. immigration refused him entry.
"I have never been denied entrance before," said Rebagliati who is currently studying for his real estate licence.
"But I do have a red flag on my name since Nagano and I have had to deal with red tape from time to time. But nothing that wasnt just drive through style.
"At first I was kind of put off by it, but I have come to include it in my routine for travel."
Rebagliati understands the need for heightened security.
"Generally it is for the good of the whole that they are being careful," he said.
"But from time to time you get somebody who is highly trained and exercises their discretion differently."
The cancellation of his Las Vegas trip was particularly disappointing as he was to host a documentary down there and help sell prints of a commemorative painting based on his 1998 race, with the proceeds going towards funding for amateur snowboarders.
According to U.S. Immigration spokesman Garrison Courtney its the increase in security leading up to the Olympics which lies at the root of Rebagliatis U.S travel ban.
"We are getting ready for the Olympics and that means more scrutiny," said Courtney."
Fellow boarder Sherry Newstead is on her way to the Salt Lake Olympics to watch.
"It think it is ridiculous to do this to Ross," she said.
"I just cant believe it. He of anybody should be there. Its outrageous that his is being denied. He hasnt been convicted of anything."
Kevin Sansalone, a member of the Whistler-Blackcomb Freeride team agrees.
"We need to have him down there," said Sansalone.
"He won the first ever gold medal in snowboarding, and it is ours, and he is our guy.
"It is really important for him to be down there to support our athletes."