Bilodeau wins Canada's first gold

By STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency


Canadian Alexandre Bilodeau from Montreal celebrates his gold medal in freestyle skiing, men's moguls event on Sunday, Feb. 14. (ANDRE FORGET/QMI AGENCY)

WEST VANCOUVER — With his inspirational handicapped brother cheering from the stands, Montreal moguls skier Alex Bilodeau made glorious history on Sunday night, becoming the first Canadian ever to win Olympic gold on home soil.

“The party’s just starting for Canada,” Bilodeau rejoiced after winning the gold medal in men’s moguls at Cypress Mountain. “It’s just too good to be true.”

It’s been said over and over: Canadian athletes didn’t win one in Montreal in 1976. They didn’t one in Calgary in 1988. But Sunday night, a Canadian athlete finally stood atop the podium at home, with the Maple Leaf waving in the air.

Bilodeau nailed his final run to pass arch-rival Dale Begg-Smith, a former Canadian now competing for Australia, to capture the gold on a cold, clear and magical night.

The 22-year-old skied the race of his life, leaving the start gate second-last, right after the mysterious Begg-Smith, to move into first place with a score of 26.75. Guilibaut Colas of France. who was first after the qualifying round, was the last person standing between Bilodeau and Olympic glory.

But the Frenchman wasn’t up to the task and when his score was flashed, the crowd at Cypress went delirious with excitement as Bilodeau waved his arms in celebration.

Bilodeau’s final run was spectacular. His time, 23.17 seconds, was exceptionally fast and his final score was the best. Bilodeau nailed his back double full jump right off the top and followed that with an excellent back flip.

In the stands, older brother Frederic, who has cerebral palsy, jumped in celebration, as did the rest of Bilodeau’s family. The defending world champion is now the Olympic champion, and the 2006 Olympic champ, Begg-Smith, settled for silver (26.58). Bryon Wilson, an unheralded American who qualified for the Games at the last minute, came third (26.08).

“A lot,” Bilodeau said when asked how much of the gold medal belongs to his brother. “Growing up with a handicapped person puts everything in perspective. He taught me so many things in life. My parents did, too. I have everything on my side. For me, everything was perfect.”

Just as it was for him on Sunday night.

Vincent Marquis of Quebec City finished fourth and Pierre-Alexandre Rousseau of Drummonville, Que. was fifth.

Begg-Smith, who grew up skiing the slopes of nearby Whistler, arrived in Vancouver on a low note, refusing to talk to the Canadian media and skipping the opening ceremony, even though his event was not until two days later.

He left the Canadian development squad when he was told he was spending too much time on the Internet business that eventually made him a millionaire and not enough time training. He and his younger brother, Jason, left for Australia, whose program gave him more flexibility, and become citizens in time for the 2003-04 season.

Begg-Smith is the 2007 world champion but was unable to compete most of last season because of a knee injury, though he rebounded in a big way this year, winning three World Cups on the circuit, including two in Calgary.

steve.buffery@sunmedia.ca

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