Freeskiing pioneer Tanner Hall, who competed in superpipe at the Dew Tour stop in Breckenridge last December, decided against trying to qualify for a Team USA slot in the Sochi Olympic Games. (Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post)

Acceptance of pot grows like weeds in sports world

Anyone who’s ever ridden a double chair or skied up on one of hundreds of lean-to “smoke shacks” in ski area trees knows that marijuana and skiing, and snowboarding, are inextricably linked.

Just don’t ask anyone about it. Especially professional athletes vying for the Winter Olympics, which will debut three new sports at Sochi in February: ski and snowboard slopestyle and ski halfpipe.

“I don’t do drugs.”

“I don’t know anything about that.”

“Next question.”

“I just can’t be quoted talking about that, please.”

Despite the sudden Olympic status of skiing’s and snowboarding’s most freewheeling disciplines, global doping watchdogs are relaxing their stance on marijuana. The World Anti-Doping Agency this past May increased the threshold for a positive marijuana test, raising the amount of measurable THC — marijuana’s psychoactive component — to 150 nanograms per milliliter of urine, a tenfold increase.

“The change to the threshold will mean that athletes using the substance in competition will be detected while the chances of detecting (nonprohibited) out-of-competition use are substantially reduced. The threshold can be monitored and changed at any time,” Julie Masse, the WADA communications director, said via e-mail.

The agency still keeps marijuana on its prohibited list of drugs, which is determined by meeting two of these three criteria: Is it performance enhancing, does it pose a health risk or does it violate the “spirit of the sport”?

The agency does not say which criteria qualifies for marijuana. But Ross Rebagliati considers it an all- natural performance enhancer.

The Canadian athlete won the first Olympic gold medal ever in snowboarding (giant slalom), at Japan’s 1998 Nagano Winter Games, but event organizers stripped his gold after a drug test found marijuana in his system. He said he had always smoked, but not during the months before the Olympics. He had, however, attended a party where several people smoked cannabis.

“So I tested positive,” Rebagliati said, noting that the test found 17 nanograms of THC in a milliliter of his urine. By the recently revised standards, Rebagliati would barely register.

After appealing the decision two times, Rebagliati won the gold medal back, noting that the WADA had never listed marijuana as a banned substance. The agency quickly added cannabinoids to its list of prohibited drugs.

Now 42, Rebagliati is still riding. He runs Ross’ Gold, an online medical marijuana dispensary in British Columbia that offers 40 strains of platinum, gold, silver and bronze-potency weed.

Rebagliati said he smoked pot regularly when he trained.

“It helped me through the mundane hours of weightlifting in the gyms six days a week. It motivated me to follow through with my goals,” he said.

It also helped him develop his riding as he pushed the then-nascent sport of snowboarding to new heights.

“For an experienced person, it can really increase your focus and calm your nerves,” he said. “I can tell you firsthand that there’s a lot of nerves and you really have to have yourself together mentally when you are on top of a heavy line. I believe quite powerfully that cannabis allows you to realize what you can’t do. It’s not like alcohol, where you feel invincible. You can analyze the risk at a higher level and you can make a better decision with your heightened awareness. For an experienced user — and I emphasize experienced user — if you are charging hard, it can give you a brain check, make you more aware of the risks and the opportunities.”

Tanner Hall agrees with Rebagliati.

An outspoken freeskiing pioneer who considered making an Olympic run for the Sochi Games but bailed after “all the bureaucratic (expletive),” Hall has long cited the importance of marijuana use in his skiing and in his recovery from several near-career-ending crashes.

In an interview with The Denver Post, the seven-time X Games gold medalist blasted the idea that the WADA focused on marijuana.

“Drugs are stupid, dude. I know that. Let’s keep it natural,” Hall said. “Under the FIS rules, you can drink as much alcohol as you can, take crazy pills with a prescription. But if you happen to set that little tree on fire and smell it, you’re out. Think about that. Big up to Washington and Colorado for leading the charge.”

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