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Tired Ross completes golden voyage home Thousands roar approval in Village Square love-in By Chris Woodall Through lightly falling snow, a flag waving crowd of between 3,000 and 5,000 jammed Whistler's Village Square to welcome snowboarding gold medalist Ross Rebagliati home, Feb. 17. "I could see every face looking at me and smiling," Rebagliati said at a press conference later. "It's a feeling I'll never be able to describe." Tuesday's boisterous party capped off an emotional mountain range for Rebagliati that reached one peak with his gold medal time in the men’s snowboard giant slalom, skidded to a valley of controversy over traces of pot in his blood system, then soared back to peaks of adulation with his reinstatement as the best of the best. "Welcome to the party!" shouted Jan Wegelin, Ross's Jw4 team coach, on a wide stage flanked left and right by store front-sized video screens set up in front of Mogul's Coffee Bean shop and the Pharmasave. People started gathering in Village Square hours before the 5 p.m. kick-off of the celebrations. Every vantage point was occupied, from condo balconies overlooking the square, to the top of the entry way to Araxi's Restaurant, to some plucky lads who perched themselves on top of the info sign board in front of the liquor store. A crowd this large has not been seen in Whistler since Rob Boyd won the 1989 World Cup downhill here, or at New Year's Eve celebrations before First Night activities tamed things down. At one point in the party the sweetish smell of "herb" was in the air, but only briefly. At another point, a group of women started singing "We love you Ross, oh yes we do-o-o." As well as the now-famous run, the video screens showed "clippings" of TV coverage of the gold medal award ceremony, the controversy, media reaction to it, and press reports of Whistler's support for Rebagliati. The assembled roared when a CBC-TV reporter noted: "Whistler will welcome home Rebagliati as a hero, regardless of what happens." They laughed at B.C. premier Glen Clark's comment that "you'd get higher from a Cheech and Chong movie." Rebagliati described the attitude that won him the gold medal as "it's either ride for no, or ride slow," meaning to go full-on so that wiping out (and posting "no time") might happen, or go slow enough to be sure to finish. "To get the Olympic gold, I decided to ride for no," Ross said. Between replying to the many accolades, or being the subject of adoring press photographers, Rebagliati — wearing his gold medal — signed autographs or greeted friends and family at the edge of the stage. To the victor go the spoils, it is said. Ross was no exception. Whistler/Blackcomb will re-name a black diamond run "Ross' Gold" — Rebagliati gets to pick which run — and presented him with a lifetime ski/snowboard lift pass... not just to get on Whistler's slopes, but to all of Intrawest’s resorts across the continent. It is the first time Intrawest has given out such a prestigious prize. Not even Intrawest CEO Joe Houssian has one, although W/B vice-president marketing and sales David Perry observed, "it's not as if Joe needs a ski pass to ski an Intrawest resort." The mountains also gave Rebagliati a mighty fine paper weight in the shape of a 60-pound glass sculpture to mark the occasion of the party and Ross's achievement. Whistler Mayor Hugh O'Reilly acknowledged Rebagliati's golden triumph by giving him a key to the village. O'Reilly also announced that Fitzsimmons Creek Park — found beside the covered bridge linking the day skier parking lots to the Blackcomb Benchlands — will be renamed Rebagliati Park. The good folks who brew Kokanee beer and have been sponsoring snowboard events since 1992, presented Rebagliati with a $10,000 cheque that will go in Ross's name to the Canadian Avalanche Association to fund continued safety and education programs for skiers and snowboarders. Rebagliati had dedicated his gold medal run at the Olympics to friend Geoff "Lumpy" Leidal who died with five others in a backcountry avalanche during the Jan. 2 weekend. Fellow Olympian Darren Chalmers gave Ross a hat of Lumpy's as a momento. "It doesn't matter what you know, some things are meant to be," Chalmers said of the tragic accident. "It's not always safe and you just can not know that," Chalmers said. Earlier, Rebagliati replied to several essential questions posed in letters written by Whistler school children, including vital statistics (his birthday is July 14), marital status ("nope, not even close"), board style (goofy), and fave food (Honey Nut Corn Flakes, despite hints of other things from the crowd). Further questions awaited Rebagliati at a press conference after the outdoor party. By this time, Rebagliati was visibly tired, even a little stunned, from the high of crowd adulation and the press of media attention of the past week. Gripping the microphone in both hands, with O'Reilly beside him, Rebagliati gave brief answers to questions. He has unofficially signed with agency IMG to handle the blizzard of commercials, appearances, and other engagements that are coming his way. "I'll let them handle it," he said to a query of what offers have come his way. As for how much coin he might make from all this: "I don't see that as a problem," Ross replied, to knowing laughs from the press. When asked about suddenly being made a role model for school-age children, Rebagliati said that's okay with him. "Yeah, definitely. It's good to look up to somebody," Rebagliati said. "(Admirers) have to realize that there are consequences of their decisions. Sometimes those consequences are good, and sometimes not so good." Snowboarding entered Ross's life 10 years ago. "I enjoy being in shape and I enjoy working out. Snowboarding seemed to happen for me," he said. As for all the hoo-hah about being linked to smoking marijuana: "I'm not concerned about it and I'm not going to do anything to counter it," Rebagliati said, before heading off to a reception for friends and family at the GLC. Rebagliati and the rest of the Jw4 team are in Europe this weekend for a World Cup competition.

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