VANCOUVER, British Columbia, Feb 5 (Reuters) – A controversy over marijuana did not stop Canadian snowboarder Ross Rebagliati from winning a gold medal in the 1998 Olympics, but it may be enough to keep him from going to this year’s competition in Salt Lake City as a spectator.
Rebagliati, whose medals will be on display in Utah, has run afoul of U.S. law that lets immigration officials bar entry for foreign citizens who have admitted past drug use, even if they have never been arrested or convicted of a crime.
Rebagliati, 30, and retired from Olympic competition, said he found out last month he was on a list of people barred from entry, when a U.S. immigration officer refused to let him to go to Las Vegas on a business trip and warned he could be arrested if he attempted to enter the United States again.
“It is frustrating, that’s for sure,” Rebagliati told CBC Radio.
The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service said on Friday that people without criminal convictions can submit drug test evidence “to prove they’re clean.” But Rebagliati has told reporters that will not help him in time to attend the games that open on Friday.
The Whistler, British Columbia, resident shot to fame in the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan when he won the first-ever Olympic gold medal in snowboarding competition, only to have the medal taken away when a post-race drug test found traces of marijuana in his blood.
An International Olympic Committee arbitration panel quickly restored the medal because there had never been an agreement between the IOC and the International Ski Federation that marijuana should be treated as a banned substance.
Rebagliati said at the time he had given up smoking pot before he decided to compete in the Olympics. He argued the drug traces in his blood probably came from second-hand smoke at a party he attended in Whistler before traveling to Japan.
Canadian officials will have Rebagliati’s medals on display at the Canadian pavilion in Salt Lake City, and an audio recording of his voice is scheduled to be played during the snowboarding competition.