By John Boyle Herald Writer
WEST VANCOUVER, B.C. — Canada’s freshly minted hero sat at a podium, still trying to grasp what he had just accomplished.
“I don’t believe I realize what is going on today and what’s happening to me right now,” Alexandre Bilodeau said a few minutes after winning gold in the men’s mogul competition.
And you’ll have to forgive the 22-year-old Canadian if he was a bit flustered at Cypress Mountain Sunday night.
This night was, after all, much bigger than Bilodeau or one run down a bump-covered mountain.
Eleven years before Bilodeau was born, Canada hosted the Summer Olympics in Montreal, and in those games, the host country failed to win a gold medal. In 1988, when Bilodeau was five months old, the Winter Games came to Calgary, and again, no gold for Canada.
Twice a host, twice embarrassed. This time, Canada vowed, that would change.
So in 2010, the pressure is on for Canadians, particularly the legitimate medal hopefuls. Jennifer Heil, who Bilodeau calls his big sister, came oh so close a night earlier on this same course, but had to settle for silver—and if you saw her face on the podium, you knew she was settling.
Less than 24 hours later, Bilodeau was in the identical spot as his country mate, training partner and close friend. Like Heil, Bilodeau was second after the first run, meaning he would be the second-to-last skier down in the final run, and like Heil, Bilodeau took the lead on that second run.
Desperate to avoid seeing the same outcome, a few Canadian fans started up a chant of “Defense,” before Guilbaut Colas of France skied the final run of the night.
And unlike the night before, the Canadian’s run was good enough to keep the lead.
And with the announcement that Colas had failed to overtake the Canadian with the final run, the 8,269 at Cypress went nuts. Cops high-fived volunteers, coaches ran around like children, looking for someone to hug. It was unbridled joy 34 years in the making.
It was perfect.
“It was the best feeling ever,” Bilodeau said.
His country couldn’t agree more.
Oh, and if Bilodeau winning gold wasn’t enough, there was an extra treat on this night for Canadians.
Not only did Bilodeau end the gold medal drought, he did it by knocking off the top ranked skier in the world, who also just happens to be something of an unpopular figure here in Vancouver.
Dale Begg-Smith, the defending Olympic champion, grew up in West Vancouver and on the slopes of Cypress and Whistler, but he now skis for Australia. As a teenager, his talent was immense, but his dedication to the sport wasn’t always on par with what Canadian coaches were looking for. See, Begg-Smith wasn’t just a skiing phenom, he was also something of a tech prodigy. As a teenager he started an internet advertising business—some have referred to him as a spam king—and is now a millionaire who needs no sponsors.
So if Canada wouldn’t put up with his dual passions, Begg-Smith decided to find someone who would. He moved to Australia as a teenager, became a citizen, and won gold for that country instead of Canada.
But it wasn’t a Canadian-turned-Australian on top Sunday night, it was Bilodeau taking home the gold.
“It’s too good to be true,” Bilodeau said. “There are more golds to come for Canada. It’s just the beginning of a good party in Canada.”
And what a party Bilodeau started Sunday night.