The XVIII Winter Olympics, just concluded in Japan, had their glory moments and a few less so. The debut of snowboarding as an Olympic sport was marred when the gold medal was taken from Canadian Ross Rebagliati after he tested positive for traces of marijuana. Rebagliati claimed he had been exposed to secondhand marijuana smoke and his medal was later reinstated. Also, the U.S. men’s hockey team, composed of professional players, was criticized for not performing up to expectations, then accused of trashing dormitory property before its abrupt departure from Nagano. MAURA E. MONTELLANO spoke with Southern California snowboarders and LISA HILL spoke with teen hockey players about the Olympic problems.
BALOU SALOUR, 32, Laguna Beach
The Olympic committee made the right decision in returning his medal. The bigger issue for me is whether it affected his performance at all. I don’t believe it did; he obviously won the gold. It wasn’t a performance-enhancing drug like steroids. If anything, it may have hindered his performance in some way. The second-hand smoke story seems possible but people will believe what they want.
The sport won’t be blemished by this one incident. Snowboarders have always had a reputation for being rebels and outsiders so it just adds to that whole image.
Everything depends on the country’s laws. Even if the IOC returned his medal, Japan could probably have pressed the issue, considering its laws on marijuana, and then it may have been a different story. Although I don’t necessarily agree with that particular law, if it’s going to be enforced, it should be done so across the board--athletes included. I think the sport will gain worldwide notice now because of the Olympics, even though it’s been around for a long time. It was seen at the elite level for the first time. It’s going to be even more popular. I don’t think this was a defining moment of these Olympics.
SONIA ENGLISH, 22, Camarillo
I surf and snowboard, and marijuana is prevalent in both sports. I think the excuse of secondhand smoke is ridiculous. I think it’s disgusting that someone who is looked up to, someone who is representing other snowboarders, actually did this while he was competing. He deserved to lose his gold medal.
The incident is a bash to the sport. He’s a great snowboarder but when you’re at that level and in the public eye, you have responsibilities. I think it sends a bad message.
When people think of snowboarders, they think Gen X, bums, unemployed. But we’re not like that. I graduated from USC. Marijuana is a depressant, so he must be a really incredible snowboarder to not have been affected.
The thing that will be remembered most from this Olympics is that guy that tested positive for marijuana and had his medal stripped and then returned. If you and I had been tested at work with the same results, we would have been fired. They should have made an example of this guy and not returned the medal.
NELSON RICHARDSON, 37, Oceanside
The story Rebagliati gave is unbelievable. Everyone knows the lifestyle of snowboarders. The majority have a reputation of being extreme thrill seekers, young and carefree. He was probably at a party some time ago and it was still in his system. I don’t feel it helped him at all even though everyone keeps saying that he won the gold anyway.
The committee made the right decision in returning the medal. But they made a wrong impression as far as the sport and competition. They basically said marijuana is OK because it’s not a performance-enhancing drug. They should ban every type of drug, illegal or not, no matter what country you’re in. In the future, if anyone tests positive, no matter the reason, they should be disqualified.
The sport will not live this situation down. It will always be brought up especially because it was the first time for this sport in the Olympics. It’s a terrible thing for the sport. Most people have a certain image of the snowboarders already, so this will only reaffirm those beliefs about them. For me, it’s a family sport, I am starting my children in the sport.
GEOFFREY WEIL 13, seventh-grader at Arthur E. Wright Middle School; Chatsworth; plays for the West Valley Wolves hockey team
I wasn’t surprised that the U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team did poorly. I didn’t have confidence in them going in. They were far too cocky.
If amateurs played on the Olympic team, there wouldn’t be the same problems. The pros already get their chance on the NHL team, which makes them think they’re too good to take the Olympics seriously.
If amateurs played on the Olympic team, they would play with more spirit. Besides, some of the amateur players are better than the professionals.
If the U.S. hockey players did party too much and break the furniture, I think they should be punished. Maybe they shouldn’t be allowed to return to the Olympics.
DAKOTA ELLIOTT, 12, seventh-grader at St. Barnabas School; Long Beach; Team L.A.
The U.S. Olympic hockey team definitely could have done better. They did well in the past Olympics and in the world championship, but this time they didn’t have the same passion.
I don’t have quite as much respect for the players now as I did before the Olympics. Their behavior--destroying property--embarrassed me. They should be punished for trashing the rooms, depending on how much damage they caused. Perhaps they should be suspended from the next few NHL games.
I still think professionals have a right to play in the Olympics. I don’t think amateurs would have any more motivation than professionals. Also, the professionals are much better players and are better to watch.
ROBERT HASHIMOTO, 14, eighth-grader at St. Nicholas Elementary School; Van Nuys; West Valley Wolves
I didn’t think the U.S. team would do well in the Olympics. They simply were not good enough. The outcome did not surprise me, but I was badly disappointed when we lost.
About the allegations of destroying their rooms, I knew already that the players were rough guys, so it didn’t surprise me that they would be rough with the furniture. I don’t think they should be let off the hook for it. They should have to donate some time and money to youth hockey programs to make up for their behavior. That would be a useful way to make them pay.
Next Olympics, the team should be a mix--some amateurs and some professionals. Some of the professionals on the team this year played much worse than amateurs.