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Bilodeau gives Canada its golden moment

Mogul skier wins Canada's first gold medal at a home Olympics


It took Alexandre Bilodeau a little over 23 seconds to make Canadian history Sunday at Cypress. The first gold medal for Team Canada at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, and the first gold medal for a Canadian athlete at an Olympic Games on home soil.

Until Sunday evening Canada was the only country to host an Olympics and not win a gold medal at home.

Bilodeau is also the third Canadian to win a gold medal in moguls, following in the footsteps of Jean-Luc Brassard in 1994 and current teammate Jennifer Heil in 2006.

It really couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.

He's one of the shorter athletes on the team, but has an easy smile that suggests, wrongly, that he never takes anything seriously. He is recognized as one of the best jumpers on the World Cup tour, one of the new school skiers that are shaking things up and pushing the boundaries of what can be done in a few seconds of air time. He's one of the reasons why World Cup moguls events are attracting tens of thousands of fans instead of thousands.

He's fast, but sometimes that gets him into trouble. He's questioned judging in the past, as have all athletes in the sport, but seems to shake off bad results as easily as he accepts good ones.

For Bilodeau, the Games were personal. He was a legitimate contender in 2006, winning the last World Cup event before the Olympics as a rookie with the team. His run was incredible, podium-worthy, although an awkward second jump that nearly resulted in a crash dropped him to 11th place. For the four years since that day he has had his eyes on Olympic gold.

But it was never about him. He used his first moments of camera time to congratulate his teammates, who also did well. All told Canada had three athletes in the top five, with Vincent Marquis just off the podium in fourth place and Pierre-Alexandre Rousseau one spot back. Maxime Gingras placed 11th.

"It's too good to be true," said Bilodeau. "There are more golds to come for Canada. It's just the beginning of a good party in Canada."

He congratulated teammate Jennifer Heil for her silver medal performance the previous evening, and called her a role model. He said he hoped to inspire younger skiers, the way he was inspired.

"I just hope the kids are inspired, like I was inspired by Jean-Luc Brassard (in 1994)," he said.

Bilodeau posted a score of 26.75, just 0.17 points ahead of Dale Begg-Smith, the reigning Olympic champion and the current World Cup leader.

Begg-Smith is also a Canadian from Vancouver and Whistler who has competed for Australia for the past seven years.

Begg-Smith was given the edge in the bumps with a slightly higher turn score - 14.2 to Bilodeau's 14.1. Judges also gave Begg-Smith a slight advantage in air points, but Bilodeau had a huge edge in speed, blasting through the middle section of the course to complete his run in 23.17 seconds to earn 7.21 time points compared to Begg-Smith's 6.95.

Bilodeau's story is nothing short of incredible. He was a hockey-mad Montrealer with a lot of skill at a young age, but at the age of seven his parents asked him to switch to skiing - an activity that was easier for the family to do together. Bilodeau's older brother Frederic has cerebral palsy.

Around the same time Brassard won gold for Canada in the 1994 Games, the debut of mogul skiing in the Olympics. With a role model to follow, Bilodeau threw himself into the sport, climbing he ranks before making the national team at 17. He competed in his first Olympics in 2006.

Watching Frederic struggle with his disability inspired Bilodeau to work harder and face challenges head-on. At one point the doctors said Frederic would not be able to walk after turning 10, but now he's 28 and he can still get around on his own feet with a little assistance. He even skis at St. Sauveur, Quebec.

Alex always asked himself what his brother would do if Frederic had the opportunity to be in his boots and he always reached the same conclusion: he would go for it, and would never give up.

"(Frederic) doesn't have that chance to be an athlete and go to the Olympics, but for sure if he did he would take the opportunity and do as much as he could with it," said Bilodeau.

Third place at Cypress went to American Bryon Wilson, a skier who made the team after another U.S. skier was injured. An underdog, Wilson celebrated like he won gold on Sunday, forgoing the usual Stars and Bars to wrap himself in the Montana flag before the flower ceremony. The athletes will receive their medals today in Vancouver.

While Begg-Smith didn't look happy to place second he was able to put it into perspective.

"I skied the way I wanted to ski and that's all I control," he said. "There were a lot of good runs today and it just depends on the day how you do...

"I think it's great that Canada won gold and the crowd was really happy with it, and everybody went crazy."