Sha’Carri Richardson’s suspension by the U.S. Track and Field Association has spurred a major discussion about Olympic athletes and cannabis.
Unlike Richardson, swimmer Michael Phelps never failed a drug test. However, he was suspended by USA Swimming after a photo of him hitting a bong went viral in 2009.
The best comparison would be to snowboarder Ross Rebagliati, who won the first ever gold medal for giant slalom in 1998, but then had it stripped when he tested positive for THC, like Richardson. Rebagliati, who’s Canadian, said it was due to second-hand smoke and the IOC relented and returned the medal.
Rebagliati became a cause célèbre in Canada, but also was ridiculed for his transgression.
“It was a mixed reception,” he told Ashleigh Banfield on NewsNation Now on July 7. “There were a lot of fans and a lot of support from Britsh Columbia. It’s a cannabis culture here, but there were a lot of mixed emotions as well. There were a couple of death threats
“For a period of time after the Olympics, for 15 years, I had to deal with a lot a kind of depression and PTSD almost. Just winning the gold was a big enough change for me, but to embarrass my county – there was a lot on my shoulders and I really bore the brunt of it. But at the same time I did know the platform that was given to me. As a cannabis supporter leading up to ’98 I knew it was an opportunity I had to take to get behind cannabis and support athletes and people in the world who use it.”
About Richardson, he commented: “It’s a travesty. She’s a bright star in the world of track and field, which is one of the most, if not the most, competitive sport arguably, and a great American citizen and role model. It’s too bad cannabis activism has to be made at the expense of such an outstanding individual.”
“Cannabis should be promoted as a positive for athletes, as an alternative to pharmaceuitcals that are addictive and just mask injuries.”
Twenty-three years later, Rebagliati, who turns 50 next week, reflected on changes in Canadian cannabis policy and his role in helpng make legalization happen there in 2017.
“It’s a long time coming,” the champion snowboarder explained. “It’s been a long road for me to stay healthy and on top of my game. Cannabis has really helped me get there. But to see cannabis at the recreational level supported by the federal government, we never thought we’d see that in our lifetime. The most entrenched activists for cannabis legalization never expected to see this.
“I really believe my experience in 1998 started the conversation in Canada about whether or not cannabis should be under prohibition.”
So, is cannabis a performance enhancer for athletes or not?
“Performance enhancing isn’t necessarily what the word traditionally means,” he commented. “Water is performance enhancing. You perform better when you’re hydrated. Cannabis should be promoted as a positive for athletes, as an alternative to pharmaceuitcals that are addictive and just mask injuries. Whether it’s performance enhancing or not, it has no place on the list of banned substances. The IOC really needs to be a leader. Cannabis should be more accepted and used right across the board around the world.”
Rebagliati has his own cannabis brand – Ross’ Gold – in British Columbia