by | Feb 12, 1998 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

NAGANO, Japan — Is it just me, or are you watching these Olympic Games and wondering whether you stumbled upon “MTV’s Winter Hot Tub Party” by mistake?

You have aerial skiers with blue streaks in their hair, flipping like pancakes to rock ‘n’ roll music. Mogul skiers blitzing down Olympic-sized bumps, then shouting, “We’re stoked!” Short-track speedskaters banging bodies like Roller Derby, and Rollerbladers-turned-speedskaters with pierced tongues and tattoos.

I don’t want to say these are not your parents’ Olympics, but if Sonja Henie were in Nagano, she’d be jumping into a mosh pit.

TRADITIONAL VICTORY SPEECH: “I am happy to win for my country.”

1998 VICTORY SPEECH: “Uh, like, this is for the dudes back at Whistler — YOU ROCK!”

And now, just as your ears were getting used to the heavy metal, here comes a major bummer of a news flash: Canada’s Ross Rebagliati, the inaugural Olympic snowboarding champion — yes, I said snowboarding, a sport that dates back at least a month and a half — had his medal stripped because they found marijuana in his system.

Today’s Olympic lesson, kids: If you’re going for the gold, make sure it’s not Colombian.

We pause here for actual Internet messages for Ross from a Canadian web site called “Slam!”:

“Ross: Keep the medal! The IOC Nazis have gone too far this time!” — Sam from Toronto.

“Ross: When the IOC is dead, you can still tell your grandchildren you were the fastest snowboarder in the world!” — Michal T, Kingston, Ontario.

“Ross: I’m stoned right now, too — party on, dude!” — P.M.C. from Toronto.

And they say Olympic spirit is dead.

Not my doobie, brother

Now, as you can imagine, the jokes were flying fast and furious here in Na-gonzo (that’s one) about Team Cannabis (there’s two) and its toke-n bad boy
(three) who hoped to leave with a bang, but may settle for a bong (four).

And we haven’t even touched the Olympic credo, “Faster, Stronger, Higher — and Higher” (five), or the fact that, if the Olympics are going to be such sticks-in-the-mud, Ross may have to find a more tolerant workplace, like the NBA (six).

But in Ross’s defense, he says it’s a bum rap. He didn’t inhale! It don’t-be his doobie! In fact, as part of his Olympic sacrifice, Ross says he quit smoking dope back in April of 1997! That’s 10 whole months, dude! Cut him some slack!

According to Canadian team officials, the only reason Ross’ test results forced the International Olympic Committee away from its cocktails and booze long enough to eject him for drugs is — and I couldn’t make this up — “the significant amount of time Ross spends in an environment where he is exposed to marijuana.”

In plain English, his friends throw too many parties where the air is roughly equivalent to a reggae band’s dressing room.

Secondary smoke. Honest, officer. Ross says he went to one good-bye bash a few weeks ago where the wacky tabacky was in prominent use. He didn’t touch the stuff, of course. But who knew he should have held his breath?

“I’ve worked too hard to let this slip through my hands,” Ross moaned.

Wait. More Internet messages:

“Ross: Take the medal and run!” — Joe, from your province.

“Ross, I think I speak for many Canadians when I say I am disappointed and ashamed.” — Jill from Edmonton, Alberta.

“Ross, ignore Jill, she’s probably hammered on Molson.” — Empathy from Montreal.

Ah, cyberspace.

Welcome to selling out, dudes

Then again, what did the IOC expect? In an apparent effort to capture younger viewers — that, or someone is really in love with ESPN2 — the Lords of the Rings decided to declare things like “half-pipe snowboarding” — a derivative of skateboard flipping — Olympic sports in the first place.

You import something from a strip-mall parking lot, you take your chances.

The funny thing is, many snowboarding faithful hate the idea of their “rebel” sport being homogenized by Olympic status. They don’t like the outfits. They don’t like the rules. For them, it’s like the Vietnam War making Country Joe and the Fish its official house band. It’s selling out. Why, the best snowboarder in the world, Norway’s Terje Haakonsen, is boycotting Nagano. Too much structure. Doesn’t trust it.

With such antihero dynamics, I’m betting Ross becomes more of a legend through this pot incident than he would have been by winning the gold. And if that sounds strange, well, take a look at today’s half-pipe competition, where
“snurfers” were “catching air” and pulling “rodeo-flips.”

The rules have changed, folks. It’s the Gen-X Olympics, gold, silver, bronze and “whatever.” Personally, if Ross really did smoke dope before his competition, you have to salute him for making it down the mountain.

The temptation would have been to stop for doughnuts.

To leave a message for Mitch Albom, call 1-313-223-4581.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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