The day after Ross Rebagliati became the first man ever to nab the gold medal for snowboarding in the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, judges stripped the medal from him after finding elevated levels of THC in his blood. Snowboarding’s first year in the Olympics had the resin of bong water on it, and the revelation unleashed a media frenzy around the 26-year-old champion.
Rebagliati, who is Canadian, ultimately reclaimed his medal. Technically, THC wasn’t listed as a performance-enhancing drug — yet. Still, the brouhaha left Rebagliati’s reputation tarnished and turned him in the minds of many from a winner to a loser. Media pummeled him for being a poor role model, his sponsors bailed and Rebagliati lost the focus required to compete.
“I wasn’t recognized for what I had accomplished but for something illegal,” he says today.
“I was more or less outcast. Regular World Cup competition requires 100 percent focus: No distractions, no girlfriends, no problems at home, lots of money. Suddenly I had no money and tons of distractions.”
Unlike most Olympic athletes, Rebagliati has never shied away from being an outspoken advocate for cannabis, even though it is still shunned by those who run the world of sports. At 42, he now runs Ross’s Gold, a cannabis branding company and dispensary located in his hometown, Kelowna, British Columbia (the home of BC Bud), where he lives with his wife and three children. We caught up with Rebagliati to chat about Nagano, pot as a performance enhancer and his own hemp regimen.
Cannabis Now: What was the worst moment of the Winter Olympics in Nagano, the one that still vibrates?
Ross Rebagliati: Let me tell you about three moments, two good, one bad, all happening the same day. They all involve kids. I got a lot of fan mail. One little girl named her goldfish after me. Another little girl drew a picture of me and said she hopes her dad grows up to be like me. But one boy’s dad wouldn’t let him have my autograph because he didn’t want me associated with his son. That hurt.
Ever since Nagano, you’ve maintained that cannabis is not a performance enhancer. Do you still feel that way?
Ross Rebagliati: In a roundabout way. You won’t be able to run faster or jump higher after using cannabis. But it breaks the monotony of repetitive workouts where you’re in the gym for three hours a day, six days a week. During the off-season, athletes often feel unmotivated – the constant training, the repetition, the lack of social life. Cannabis gives me the motivation to get up early to go to the gym when it’s still dark outside. Jet lag is another big issue when you’re on the road. If you don’t get the right amount of sleep, it creates more stress in other areas. Cannabis is a great sleep enhancer.
Estimates say that 50 percent of basketball players use cannabis. Is cannabis the big open secret in all sports?
Ross Rebagliati: It has a lot to do with their background and what part of the country they are from. There are many athletes who won’t use it. One reason is drug testing. When I started there was no drug testing. It wasn’t an issue. We were basically a bunch of highly trained kids and having fun. Snowboarding wasn’t an Olympic event at the time. That was my unique situation. A lot of sports don’t have drug testing and you’ll find athletes discovering benefits and how it can be part of a high-performance lifestyle.
What’s a typical routine?
Ross Rebagliati: In the morning, I use one teaspoon of 420 honey in my coffee at 5 a.m. I might puff an extract in a vaporizer before the gym. I use low dosages in the morning. Low dosages work extremely well and leave you with a sense of satisfaction and wellness without entering couch-lock territory.
Over the last year or two, I’ve moved to edibles and extracts, rather than dry flower. Extracts are healthier and way more conducive to an active lifestyle. No lingering smell, no more $10 roaches, no rolling or no ashes. Rolling is kind of meditative but if you’re ripping through your day, you don’t have 20 meditation times.
If I’m doing a long road bike ride I may take a taffy at the halfway point. You’ll get the sugar boost and a few carbs and you’re ready to pull off 20 more miles. But it also numbs pain in legs from lactic acid build up and CBD reduces inflammation in muscles and joints. It works great during intensive activity. I’ll do 60 miles in four hours.
And for recovery?
Ross Rebagliati: To recover I have a power shake as soon as I get home: Creatine, a frozen banana, blueberries and peanut butter mixed with a half cup of hemp hearts, the fresh hemp seed, and a protein powder from hemp because it is a superfood high in omegas and complex carbs.
Your name has been synonymous with cannabis for the last 20 years. Any regrets?
Ross Rebagliati: Anytime anyone in the world tests positive, I’m the guy NBC talks to. When Michael Phelps got into his little cannabis situation, I was the one who went on NBC to explain why athletes might choose cannabis over alcohol. He acknowledged that “athletes from other sports” had come to his defence. That was me. No other athlete would come to his defence — why would they? What would they gain from it? For me, I had already lost everything I would have wanted to protect and I really needed to not be in the pot closet. I had to give meaning to what my life was after Nagano.
I use cannabis to amplify intimacy with others, sexual or otherwise. Do you?
Ross Rebagliati: I have sex five days a week with my wife. It’s the most incredible thing. It’s more than a hard-on, and I think intimacy is part of it. If you can get into that intimate mood, you’ll be more likely to have sex in the first place. It’s the same with your animals. Dogs, cats, horses and your kids, for that matter. Cannabis gives you an intimate connection to the world around you, music, food, everything. It lends itself to wellness and feeling good.
So is it fair to say that cannabis ruined your life but saved it, too?
Ross Rebagliati: I entered snowboarding when it was in its infancy, before we were allowed to ride the chairlifts in Canada. Snowboarding was too much fun, too easy not to go big. I see the same situation right now with cannabis, though with a lot more money behind it. We’re not going to see another industry like this come our way for a long time.
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