Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Our hero... Bilodeau
Saves us the indignity of watching treacherous Begg-Smith win gold
WEST VANCOUVER, B.C. -- The shutout is over.
His name is Alex Bilodeau. He is 22 years old. His mother forced him to quit playing hockey at the age of seven, so he grudgingly moved to the freestyle club at the local ski hill.
The moguls skier from Rosemere, Que., goes down in history as the first Canadian to ever win gold on home soil.
"I don't think I realize it yet," said Canada's newest sporting hero, standing under the bright lights at Cypress Mountain. "It's just too good to be true."
And to think Bilodeau also saved people from coast to coast the indignity of watching West Vancouver native Dale Begg-Smith become the first Canadian to hit the top of the podium at home... on behalf of his adopted country of Australia.
"Alex took the first gold," said Canadian coach Dominick Gauthier. "The other athletes can just breathe a bit. The first gold has been won."
And the pressure, to a degree, is off.
"Of course people would have freaked out like we did for Beijing," Gauthier said of the entire week without a single medal at the 2008 Summer Olympics. "Now it's done."
Canada's dubious shutout streak on home soil extended through the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary and two days of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
Jenn Heil, Bilodeau's training partner, won silver Saturday. The country expected gold.
A crowd of 8,269 hearty souls at Cypress Mountain went wild over the rare privilege of witnessing history unfold before them.
Begg-Smith entered the Olympics as the undisputed favourite to win gold. Born in West Vancouver, the self-made millionaire moved to Australia back in 2001 in a spat with the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association. Canadian officials refused to allow the rising star the flexibility to balance his burgeoning Internet advertising business with training. So he left and proceeded to win gold for Australia at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy.
The 25-year-old cruised into first place with a score of 26.58. Then came Bryon Wilson. The unknown American finished just back with a score of 26.08.
Bilodeau stood at the top of the hill and took a deep breath.
"I had no regrets over what I've done in the last four years," he told himself. "I'm ready. The most ready I've ever been."
And he was. Bilodeau launched himself down the hill, flew over the jumps, landed cleanly and roared over the finish line in 23.17 seconds. He finished with a combined scored of 26.75 to knock Begg-Smith out of first place.
"I don't believe it yet," Bilodeau said. "It's been a dream since I was a little kid, and it's come true."
-- Canwest News Service
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 15, 2010 A11
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