Stoned snowboarder meets weird alien ritual of multi-coloured humanoid insects

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IF THE Olympic movement needed bringing up to date, Canada's snowboarding stoner, Ross Rebagliati, was the man to do it as sport and youth culture collided in a five-ringed haze.

It turned out that performance-enhancement isn't the problem - and quite right, too. Cannabis can only be performance-wrecking, I'd have said. From what I've seen at Nagano this week (BBC and Eurosport), I'd rather walk through Bangkok airport with a sackful of high-grade skunk than go within staggering distance of a snowboard with even a single nanogram of dope in my bloodstream, let alone 17.8.

At the announcement of the positive test, even Francois Carrard, of the International Olympic Committee, was apologetic, saying, "Opinions were quite split as to whether to apply sanctions." The highlight was when Carol Anne Letheren, secretary-general of the Canadian Olympic Association, faced a media corps that was obviously loving it. Hazel Irvine introduced the BBC's news item on Wednesday lunchtime, saying, "He claims he's the victim of passive marijuana smoking" in a tone of naked disbelief, and when Letheren spoke of "the significant amount of time he spends in an environment where he is exposed to marijuana users," the press conference cracked up, and a half-sheepish, half tongue-in-cheek smile spread across her face. I imagine half the reporters were laughing at what Rebagliati's excuse said about snowboarding, while the other half were simply thinking, "Yeah, right, and I'm Howard Marks."

The idea that certain sports might benefit from a slightly woozy head is somewhat implausible, (and ski jumping strikes me as a particularly bad example for the authorities to cite). Not even curling would benefit from a pre-match toke, though I suspect it might enhance the spectating experience.

The BBC has suffered this week from the whims of the host broadcasters - for three nights in a row, four curling matches were taking place, with cameras at three of them - but not on the Brits. They also suffered from the fact that their studio pundit, Hammy McMillan, while clearly a nice bloke, is about as invig- orating as an overdose of Rohypnol. He might, of course, have been cowed into near-silence by the Beeb's virtual studio, a sort of ice dome perched amid the mountain tops. You half expected to see Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood peeping over the parapet behind Ray Stubbs' shoulder.

Curling's first surprise is the fact that it is played in a nice comfy arena - I'd always pictured it being played by rustics in mufflers and mittens on a frozen lake somewhere north of Tundra City. The second surprise was the racket the curlers make, barking like seals - it was like watching the highly hectic ending of Rashomon on Channel 4 a couple of weeks ago.

If you're easily bored by curling - and I must confess to one or two light snoozes over the course of the week - with a simple technique it's easy to make it strangely interesting. I used to love watching Come Dancing with the sound turned down, and it's the only way that figure skating is remotely bearable (any correspondence on this subject will be binned, by the way). Watching the curling in like manner had a similar effect - it became a wholly novel experience, like watching a weird alien ritual performed by multi-coloured humanoid insects. Progressing to the slow first movement of a Bartok string quartet on the headphones turned it into something even stranger - first, the skip's ferocious concentration, then one of the sport's most compelling characteristics, the contrast between the stately progress of the stone down the rink, like the Queen Mother drifting serenely towards the "house", and the sweeping of the frenzied worker-ants, ushering her along. Ross Rebagliati would know what I mean.

I strongly suspect, from their pitiful performance against Chile, that the England football team had been indulging in some heavy passive dope- smoking themselves. Watching the highlights (ITV) and then listening to Glenn Hoddle and Alan Shearer talking it up afterwards was a perplexing experience of the "were they at the same game?" variety.

Dion Dublin could be excused, as he was still high from actually putting on an England shirt, and Michael Owen didn't try to hide his disappointment. The Hoddle and Shearer Show, however, reminded me of nothing less than that bunch of bright-eyed, media-coached, pager-driven PR-pods (Invasion of the Mini-Thatchers), New bloody Labour. And while we're on the subject - and though I can think of no sporting associations except for his affiliation to Burnley FC - I raise a glass (or should that be an ice bucket?) to Danbert Nobacon, my Man of the Week.

What has obviously not been grasped by John Prescott, who following his drenching looked like an especially grumpy Kenny Dalglish, is that that's all politicians are good for.