Bilodeau gold eases pressure

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VANCOUVER - OK, Canada. You can exhale now.

The drought is over. The oh-for-Olympics on home soil is no longer us. Alexandre Bilodeau won more than a gold medal Sunday at Cypress Mountain. He lifted the pressure off every Canadian athlete here at the Vancouver Olympics. He shovelled their driveways.

He made more than history. He busted down the doors and now the path is clear for others to follow.

Some will try and make this a Paul Henderson-esque moment for Canada. A where-were-you moment for Canadian sport. But as big as this is, it isnít that. It doesnít have the same political or cultural ramifications that Hendersonís famous goal against the Russians did.

But that happened in 1972. To really remember the moment, you have to be older than 45. Bilodeauís gold-medal victory in the moguls event Sunday night will be discussed, debated and replayed over and over again ó and it will be celebrated, as it should be ó but it doesnít have the same ring to it as the Henderson goal or even the menís hockey gold won by Canada in 2002.

For these Games, though, it is enormous.

It is enormous for a Vancouver Organizing Committee, which is having all kinds of trouble finding its way. It is enormous for a Canadian team searching for momentum, looking for a lead-off man or woman.

Canada and Vancouver each needed something good to happen, something huge: Alex Bilodeau, born a month after Sidney Crosby, a teenager in Turin four years ago, with a perpetual smile, is suddenly the Canadian face of these Olympic Games.

And be honest, who had Bilodeau in the first Canadian medal pool?

Thatís what makes his victory all the more special. It wasnít just the medal he won, it was how he won it. It was who he beat. It was the drama of being in the lead with one skier to go and everyone holding their breath. It was winning when he thought he could, but others werenít so certain.

Everything we love in a gold medal story.

And it was the national anthem finally playing for something other than the start of a sporting event ó or in the Olympic case, the opening ceremony.

This was supposed to be Dale Begg-Smithís event. He happens to be the creepy Canadian who had a part in inventing Internet spam and took his money and ran to Australia. Beating Begg-Smtih on any given day is a great thing. Beating him in Vancouver, his home town, is all the more rich.

Opening the door for the rest of the Canadian Olympic team for the final 14 days of the Games is monumental and, for some, inspiring.

Olympics have a way of running on momentum and so do Olympic teams: One night Canada is all aflutter about Jenn Heil winning silver and Charles Hamelin winning nothing. And a day later, there is Bilodeau at the moguls, following up on the bronze-medal skate of Kristina Groves earlier in the afternoon, following up on the absolutely inspirational race of the flag bearer, Clara Hughes, and following up on the 6th place come-from-nowhere biathlon finish of the unknown Jean-Phillipe le Guellec.

Energy flowing from one Canadian athlete to another.

This was what Canada needed, a Super Sunday after a sour Saturday. A two medal day, gold and bronze. A win for Bilodeau. A first medal for Groves.

The Olympics are two days old and Canada has three medals, one gold, one silver, one bronze. Alex Bilodeau has cleared the way: Itís time to own the podium.


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