Champ fails drug test thanks to his dopey friends

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ROSS REBAGLIATI feared yesterday that he might become the first Olympic champion to lose his title through passive smoking.

The 26-year-old Canadian was appealing against the decision to strip him of the snowboarding gold medal he won at the Winter Games here on Sunday after testing positive for marijuana.

Rebagliati claims it was his environment which was to blame for the illegal levels detected in his urine - specifically, a house full of friends who smoked dope at his Olympic going-away party. Michael Wood, the Canadian's snowboard team manager, said: "Ross has told me straight up that everyone he knows and associates with is a user."

Rebagliati added that all his housemates - whom he had last seen at the party on 31 January - regularly used marijuana.

However, the man who claimed snowboarding's first-ever Olympic title maintains that he has not used marijuana himself since April of last year. His position, it seems, is an inverted model of Bill Clinton's - he inhaled, but he did not smoke.

Marijuana is on the International Olympic Committee's list of banned drugs because it is said to convey the wrong image, rather than because it is performance-enhancing. Alcohol is also banned.

The International Ski Federation, anticipating the defence that Rebagliati has put forward, allows for a low level of marijuana (which the Canadian just exceeded), but the Olympic authorities forbid the drug altogether.

This latest Olympic embarrassment has brought a knowing smile to the faces of those who follow snowboarding - a wild child of a sport which has been embraced by an Olympic movement eager for its youthful attraction. Since it originated as a snowbound version of surfing in the United States in the late 1960s snowboarding has embraced the watery sport's alternative culture - which includes widespread recreational drug use.

The IOC's executive board agreed, albeit by a 3-2 margin with two abstentions, that Rebagliati had taken the central tenet of of the Olympic motto - faster, higher, stronger - too literally. And that may not be the end of Rebagliati's problems. Japan's drug laws are notoriously strict and Nagano police said yesterday they were planning to interview him over the matter.

Sport, page 30