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Snowboarder Keeps Gold

Canadian snowboarder Ross Rebagliati, stripped of his sport's first Olympic title after he tested positive for marijuana, will be allowed to keep the medal, an appeals panel decided Thursday.

The Committee for the Arbitration of Sport said the lack of a legal agreement between the international skiing federation and the International Olympic Committee made the IOC's sanction improper.

The decision of the appeals panel was unanimous.

"The athlete will keep his medal," said Jean Philippe Rochat, secretary general of the CAS. "It's a clear message that if the international sports body wants such rules, it has to specify clearly that marijuana is a forbidden substance."

"It's purely the legal issue. It's not our role to examine the social issues at this stage."

He said the IOC and Rebagliati had been notified and that the IOC could not appeal.

Rebagliati, 26, who won the gold medal for snowboarding in the men's giant slalom Sunday, became the first athlete to test positive for drugs at the Nagano Games. Officials said they could not recall another Olympic case involving marijuana.

Only four positive drug tests have ever been recorded at the Winter Olympics, two at Innsbruck in 1976, one in Sarajevo in 1984 and one in Calgary in 1988. For Canada, this is also sadly reminiscent of Seoul in Summer 1988, when Toronto sprinter Ben Johnson lost his gold medal and world record for using the anabolic steroid stanozolol.

IOC officials said no gold medalist since Johnson has been disqualified for drug use. And no gold medalist was ever disqualified for drugs before 1988, when several weightlifting champions were banned for steroid use just days before Johnson's disqualification.

IOC Director General Francois Carrard said the first part of the two-part drug test found traces of metabolized marijuana in Rebagliati's urine. The second part turned up more signs of marijuana use 17.8 nanograms per milliliter, Carrard said. That meant Rebagliati, a British Columbian whose triumph was celebrated throughout Canada, was out in the narrowest of votes.

He said the IOC board vote was 3-2, with two members abstaining. The medical commission vote was 13-12 in favor of recommending action to the IOC governing body. The IOC also could have reprimanded Rebagliati but allowed him to keep his medal.

International ski federation rules allow 15 nanograms per milliliter; the IOC allows none. The fact that Rebagliati's levels tested above 15 "did have a certain influence on the debate," Carrard said.

Deportation or other penalties are unlikely as long as an investigation shows that Rebagliati did not use the drug in Japan, a Nagano police spokesman said Thursday (Wednesday night EST).

Rebagliati tested positive for marijuana after his winning run in the men's giant slalom Monday.

He appeared at a police station near the Shiga Kogen ski area, the snowboarding venue, Thursday (Wednesday night EST), the Kyodo news gency reported. He was summoned Wednesday.

Drug use is far less prevalent in Japan, compared to the United States, and the nation has relatively strict drug laws.

No foreigner who has been penalized for a drug offense is allowed to enter the country. Austrian ski jumper Andreas Goldberger, who has admitted cocaine use, was allowed to take part in the Olympics, only with special government permission.

Carrard said he had no indication Rebagliati used the drug in Japan.

Marijuana has long been on the IOC list of banned drugs, but Carrard said he had no memory of the drug ever appearing before at the Olympics. "There are no cases which are similar," Carrard said.

In another drug case, U.S. bobsledder Michael Dionne was pulled from the Olympic team after his drug suspension was upheld but was urged to stay in Nagano because he was guilty only of "carelessness." Dionne said he took the banned stimulant ephedrine accidentally in cold medicine.

Written by Ted Anthony Associated Press Writer
©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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