Snowboard Life Magazine – Vol. 4 Num. 1 Ross Rebagliati and the Snowboard-Celebrity High Life The Alpine racer would weather the storm, but not without a few dark nights of the soul. Sure, now he can live off the fat of the land; a guy who had to sell his house tostay on course is eating for free at the best restaurants in Whistler. How would you like to stare into the seaof camera shutters, knowing they tell the globe you’re not snowboarding’s first Olympic gold medalist butsomeone more like fellow Canadian Ben Johnson, the sprinter who ripped a gold medal from the field, thenhad it revoked for questionable elements of his bloodstream? Ross Rebagliati faced up to charges like thoseand won again, and now these are Ross’ salad days. He’s worked up an appetite, so let him finish his supper.Go ahead, my brother, eat. Eat. t’s time to see what the market will bear, and we’re in uncharted terrain.Ross for boss! How much is Rebagliati wattage worth? Please refer such inquiries to his new agent, theInternational Management Group-feel its presence in the “we” Ross uses when he talks deals. The goldenboy’s appearance on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno positively secured his phenom status; all racingappointments for the year are herewith canceled, upping his commodity value. Now, let’s get on withcommercial endorsements (chips, breath mints), and the filthy lucre of motivational speaking (IBM is willingto pay 15,000 dollars for a two-hour question-and-answer sit-down on setting goals). Rebagliati’shometown of Whistler has extended generous praises to his name as well-a packed Olympic homecoming inthe town square, a Blackcomb run named after him (“Ross’s Gold”), lifetime lift pass, the key to the city, notaxes for life! Makes it that much easier to hunt for property-in addition to the 2,100-square-foot condo onthe Jack Nicklaus golf course Ross owns, and the 500-square-foot one he actually lives in, Mr. Rebagliatihas purchased a parcel of land with fine views of Whistler and Blackcomb on Green Lake (the only Whistlerwater you can ski on). Not that he’s had much time to hang around-shortly after winning gold, he waswhisked about North America by private jet on a promotional tour for Roots, the 180-million-dollarcasual-clothing company with which he’s signed a healthy contract-base salary, ten-percent royalties fromsignature pieces-that could, fates depending, net him a million dollars.

On a more personal level, Ross Rebagliati is now certifiably infamous, hovering at the nadir of pop-cultural iconography-your life as aSaturday Night Live skit. His is the kind of dubious achievement that gets noticed at the supermarket, andgarners a standing ovation from 30,000 fans at a Vancouver-Los Angeles hockey game (he needed a policeescort from the stadium). In the course of one race, Ross Rebagliati became the kind of guy who gets hissurfing vacation to Costa Rica paid for by a wealthy Canadian-in-exile if he’ll simply route the trip throughHouston and hang. He has mothers and children asking for autographs before we can plop in the corner of afavorite haunt, Mondo’s, where he also eats for free. Yet he begins by calmly downplaying the whole thing.”A lot of people ask me how my life has changed, or whatever,” he says. “I just think it’s more entertainingthan it used to be. I don’t get too bored.” But wait, we’re ahead of ourselves. It’s been a long time since Rossand I talked at length. The last time was in a car, shortly after he blew doors off the first-ever OlympicSnowboarding Giant Slalom on Mt. Yakebitai, in front of 10,000 ballistic fans and collective camerawindows to the world. After the race we careened down the icy new highway to a victorious medalceremony in Nagano. We toasted his monumental win, something he couldn’t yet grasp except that in thehundreds of races he’s run in eleven years, “a lot went into getting to that one race, and a lot of how wetrained was specifically for the Olympics.” Three years of his life for the 2:03.96 ofebruary 8, officially.Two-hundredths of a second faster than second best, and a whole world apart. “The Olympics had beenon my mind quite a long time,” he says now. “So it was satisfying to finally just get it over with! Then to win itwas … over the top. It pretty much accomplished every goal I ever had, as far as competition insnowboarding goes, with that one race.

I’ve never been ranked number one in the world, but even thoughthis isn’t a year-end ranking, in the eyes of the people it means more to win the Olympics.” Thoughovershadowed in recent years by the results rung up by Olympic teammates Mark Fawcett and Jasey-JayAnderson, Rebagliati had still bagged two of snowboarding’s most-coveted race titles, the Mt. BakerBanked Slalom (1992) and the U.S. Open Super-G (1994). Ross had sponsor difficulties and trouble findingfinancial backing, but still rode hella fast. While others took home fat cash purses, Rebagliati quietly focusedon the one February day he’d go faster than anyone. “I was kind of in a daze, not really comprehending whatI’d been thinking of for three years,” he says of the awards ceremony where the gold medal was drapedaround his neck. “My goals were accomplished. I don’t think it really has sunk in. I’ve been so busy lately Ihaven’t had a chance to think about the whole thing.” Busy is an understatement. As he sorts throughopportunities in the world that is his oyster, “goals” is probably the noun Rebagliati uses most.

In the film Downhill Racer, Robert Redford plays the outsider from humble beginnings who triumphs over adversity tonab skiing’s Olympic downhill gold medal. As research, Redford and writer James Salter traveled with theU.S. Ski Team, patterning the lead character after top-racer Spider Sabich. By the film’s end, we’re shownRedford winning the medal, transformed from zero to hero for just a fleeting instant. As he’s mobbed by whatis a paltry amount of media by today’s standards, Redford answers the question of what he’ll do next with abreathless, “I don’t know! I don’t know. I just want to … slow down!” Rebagliati’s crowning moment wasevery bit as intense, yet at today’s breakneck pace and given extenuating circumstances, slowing down is notan option. Nowadays you capitalize while the iron is hot, and if you don’t know how, there’s a whole worldof managers, handlers, lawyers, and agents who will see to it. Michele Taggart, fellow Olympian and one ofRoss’s close friends from competition, remembers what he told her when all was said and done. “He told mehow he’s doing this and doing that, and he’s going here and there, but he never said how he was doing. Ilaughed and go, ‘I asked how you are doing, Ross, not what.’” But you try to retain focus when there arepeople saying they want to record a CD of you singing the songs of Canada’s finest, like Neil Young andSarah McLachlan (or Bryan Adams and Celine Dion, at least).

You try and keep your feet on the ground when the day you’re in Calgary, an erroneous front-page newspaper story pegs you as the star of aCanadian feature snowboarding film. The truth is Leno called: “That was the first time I’d been in my room infour days. The phone rang. I just happened to be there, two seconds away from leaving to go to breakfast. IfI hadn’t been there, I never would’ve returned the call.” And Letterman called, but Ross declined, “I wasreally tired. And I was thinking he was going to try to … get me somehow. Try to get me to say something Ishouldn’t say. I thought it was kind of cool just to do the one show and not go around and do everything.”Hollywood has, as they say, expressed interest: “They know I can speak. They’re interested for one reasonor another. It’s not too hard-if Arnold Schwarzenegger can make movies … to do something like JamesBond I think would be good. I can see where there’s a lot of flexibility for someone who doesn’t have to beas talented an actor. I can drive cars, shoot guns, and jump stuff. Why not?” But Rebagliati’s boyish goodlooks and honest charm are closer to Redford’s than Schwarzenegger’s. Rebagliati is snowboarding’s firstcelebrity, and even though the Wheaties box got canceled, that’s worth something. It distorts any discussion:the question of whether Ross did or didn’t inhale, ruthlessly dug at by an Outside magazine article on hisWhistler homecoming, threatens to be what the world remembers about Olympic snowboarding. It seems allthe more unjust when other athletes-skiing stars, rumor has it-tested positive for marijuana later in theGames, yet their names were simply not revealed. No one protested, and Rebagliati can’t argue with his fameturned to infamy any more than one could complain about receiving radio signals through their molars afterbeing hit by lightning. He is both victim and benefactor. Ross Rebagliati is about to dig into his breakfast at alocal Whistler eatery when the cops walk in. “We’re coming to get you, Ross,” one jokes and pats him on theshoulder as he walks by. “Yeah, I’m ready. Take me away,” Ross deadpans. He can joke about it now, evenwatch the SNL skit for the first time with his buddies and random customers at Showcase snowboard shop,laughing right along. But in a more intimate setting, he tells a different story-about having his gold medalstripped by the medical panel when they found 17.8 nanograms of marijuana in his post-race urine sample.About getting called into a Japanese police station and interrogated for ten hours about marijuana- what itfeels like, and how to smoke it, and could he please roll a joint for them?-while Canadian OlympicAssociation members waited outside.

About having his rights read to him at one point, and not sleeping for ten straight days, and losing twenty pounds, and having to sneak from hotel to hotel and meeting to meetingwith rabid paparazzi waiting for him to so much as look out a window. “The IOC broke the law, releasedconfidential test results,” he says. “I had the option of taking the IOC to court and winning millions of dollars.That’s just not my nature.” Like that first car ride to victory, it’s all coming back. It makes him angry. “I won,”he says. “I was tripping out because I didn’t know what to think. I felt like a loser. I wanted to move down toSouth America and not come back. I did not want to be me.” He says this and has to stop a moment. (Youcan see the nether image of Robert Redford looking in the mirror the night before the event in DownhillRacer.) After already winning the race, Ross had to face down the mirror again and ask, “Do I have what ittakes?” In the end, the answer was yes. Ross pulls out the medal. It’s beautiful. A most valuable keepsake. Amedal hard fought and won on more than a couple battlefields. If he had it all to go through again, would he?Would you? Would anyone? Knowing what he knows now, that in the end all would be well, the answer’s aresounding hell yeah! Snowboarding and Ross Rebagliati have arrived. Bigger, badder than they seemed. Ifthe world and the IOC didn’t know that before, they know it now. “It ended up being a positive thing forme,” Ross says. “It gave me an opportunity to be myself and just show people. They saw we’re not all idiots.I’m not saying I’m a genius, but … it’s like winning twice. A unique thing.” Then Ross grins, and again theworld is his. “My threshold is a lot higher. You can’t hurt me-or snowboarding. Not anymore.”ish goodlooks and honest charm are closer to Redford’s than Schwarzenegger’s. Rebagliati is snowboarding’s firstcelebrity, and even though the Wheaties box got canceled, that’s worth something. It distorts any discussion:the question of whether Ross did or didn’t inhale, ruthlessly dug at by an Outside magazine article on hisWhistler homecoming, threatens to be what the world remembers about Olympic snowboarding. It seems allthe more unjust when other athletes-skiing stars, rumor has it-tested positive for marijuana later in theGames, yet their names were simply not revealed. No one protested, and Rebagliati can’t argue with his fameturned to infamy any more than one could complain about receiving radio signals through their molars afterbeing hit by lightning. He is both victim and benefactor. Ross Rebagliati is about to dig into his breakfast at alocal Whistler eatery when the cops walk in. “We’re coming to get you, Ross,” one jokes and pats him on theshoulder as he walks by. “Yeah, I’m ready. Take me away,” Ross deadpans. He can joke about it now, evenwatch the SNL skit for the first time with his buddies and random customers at Showcase snowboard shop,laughing right along. But in a more intimate setting, he tells a different story-about having his gold medalstripped by the medical panel when they found 17.8 nanograms of marijuana in his post-race urine sample.About getting called into a Japanese police station and interrogated for ten hours about marijuana- what itfeels like, and how to smoke it, and could he please roll a joint for them?-while Canadian OlympicAssociation members waited outside.

About having his rights read to him at one point, and not sleeping for ten straight days, and losing twenty pounds, and having to sneak from hotel to hotel and meeting to meetingwith rabid paparazzi waiting for him to so much as look out a window. “The IOC broke the law, releasedconfidential test results,” he says. “I had the option of taking the IOC to court and winning millions of dollars.That’s just not my nature.” Like that first car ride to victory, it’s all coming back. It makes him angry. “I won,”he says. “I was tripping out because I didn’t know what to think. I felt like a loser. I wanted to move down toSouth America and not come back. I did not want to be me.” He says this and has to stop a moment. (Youcan see the nether image of Robert Redford looking in the mirror the night before the event in DownhillRacer.) After already winning the race, Ross had to face down the mirror again and ask, “Do I have what ittakes?” In the end, the answer was yes. Ross pulls out the medal. It’s beautiful. A most valuable keepsake. Amedal hard fought and won on more than a couple battlefields. If he had it all to go through again, would he?Would you? Would anyone? Knowing what he knows now, that in the end all would be well, the answer’s aresounding hell yeah! Snowboarding and Ross Rebagliati have arrived. Bigger, badder than they seemed. Ifthe world and the IOC didn’t know that before, they know it now. “It ended up being a positive thing forme,” Ross says. “It gave me an opportunity to be myself and just show people. They saw we’re not all idiots.I’m not saying I’m a genius, but … it’s like winning twice. A unique thing.” Then Ross grins, and again theworld is his. “My threshold is a lot higher. You can’t hurt me-or snowboarding. Not anymore.”