8 February 1998
The heavy metal rockers of snowboard were invited to the Olympic Winter Games party for the first time at Nagano 1998.
It made sense for both groups: the International Olympic Committee was eager to attract a younger audience, while snowboarding was keen to start appealing to the mainstream.
Two new events were included for both men and women – giant slalom and half pipe – and first up on Mount Yakebitai was the men’s GS.
Canada’s Ross Rebagliati entered the event having not finished in the top three all season. The 26-year-old was a native of Whistler, British Columbia, and had grown up wanting to be a surfer, not a snowboarder. “I didn’t live near any waves,” he explained.
Under bright skies, he finished down in eighth after the first run. Then a thick fog enveloped the mountainside and there were five falls at the start of the second run, before a halt was called to proceedings for 15 minutes.
When the fog began to clear, Rebagliati was first down, putting in a daring, gate-clipping run, giving him an overall time of 2:30.96.
With the other leading boarders either falling or being too tentative in their approach, Rebagliati remained at the top of the standings, winning by two hundredths of a second from Italy’s Thomas Prugger, with Switzerland’s Veli Kestenholz in bronze.
At the medal ceremony, excited fans broke through the barrier to get the Canadian’s autograph. His glory almost went up in a puff of smoke afterwards though, when it emerged he had tested positive for marijuana after the race and was stripped of gold by the IOC.
The Canadian admitted he had used the recreational drug in the past, but insisted he had abstained from it for a year and that the traces of marijuana must have been the result of second-hand smoke inhaled at a pre-Olympics going-away party in Canada.
The Canadian Olympic Committee put in an appeal and Rebagliati’s gold medal was eventually reinstated, with the Court of Arbitration for Sport finding that the drug had not actually been placed on a banned list agreed by the IOC and snowboarding’s governing body.
In the days and weeks afterwards, the Canadian became something of a minor celebrity, even appearing on the Jay Leno Show, although he never won another race.