Bilodeau ends Canada's cold streak
WEST VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Canada's long cold snap ended Sunday evening. The clouds literally cleared over Cypress Mountain as a 22-year-old moguls skier from Montreal whisked down a meringue-topped hillside and into the books by winning the country's first-ever Olympic gold medal at home.
When Alexandre Bilodeau's score was posted, putting him in first place ahead of defending Olympic champion Dale Begg-Smith, the crowd of more than 8,269 erupted, then lapsed into almost complete silence as the last competitor in the finals, Guilbaut Colas of France, tipped over the edge at the top of the run.
It was only after Colas' mildly flawed performance when the fans could let loose in elation and relief. Course workers tromped into the middle of the run and waved a giant Canadian flag back at the stands.
Meanwhile, at the foot of the hill, another celebration was taking place amid the blue-clad U.S. team delegation. Bryon Wilson, a 21-year-old from Butte, Mont., who had unexpectedly wedged himself onto the Olympic team with two second-place finishes in his World Cup debut in Finland in December, had just clinched a bronze medal.
The milestone for Canada came a day later than many had anticipated. Bilodeau's teammate Jennifer Heil, the most consistent performer on the World Cup circuit this season, had been widely forecast to repeat. But Hannah Kearney of the U.S. edged Heil with a near-perfect run in a drenching rain in Saturday's final, delaying national gratification.
Bilodeau hadn't attracted nearly the buzz or the attendant pressure that Heil did, which may have helped him. He called her a "big sister," and made sure to credit a tight Canadian team for his triumph. "I'm happy to have this chance, and I seized it," Bilodeau said.
But the true source of Bilodeau's inspiration may be closer to home. His older brother Frederic was born with cerebral palsy, which gives Bilodeau a healthy perspective when he catches an edge or takes a tumble or looks outside on a training day and sees that it's raining.
"Every morning, he wakes up and has all the right to complain, and he doesn't complain," Bilodeau said of his brother.
Begg-Smith, competing on a rebuilt knee, led the World Cup standings coming into the Olympics. He has been a controversial figure in Canada because of his passport defection as a teenager and a software business that made him a young Lamborghini-driving millionaire. The hostile feelings are apparently mutual, as Begg-Smith asked the Australian Olympic Committee to limit its pre-Olympic press availability with him to reporters from that country.
On Sunday, he would not be goaded into any provocative comments. "I think it's great," he said of his Canadian rival's accomplishment. "We're out there to put on a show, and everyone enjoyed what they saw."
It would have been hard to top Bilodeau's happiness, but Wilson, an avid fly fisherman, might have come close as he realized what he'd reeled in.
Wilson, a former junior world champion who won the national championship last year, wasn't even supposed to start in Finland and accompanied the team in order to train. He got the start after another skier was injured.
The biggest challenge for young moguls skiers is consistency, and since Wilson's out-of-nowhere coup in Finland, his results have been mixed. But he felt he could be consistent with the trick he does off the first jump, a double back flip, and after nailing it, he never faltered.
Wilson is precocious in more ways than one. He and his younger brother built their own jumps as kids, and he landed his first flips in an area he called "sketchy," without much room for error on the landing due to a nearby barbed wire fence.
At age 15, Wilson took up woodcarving, and has since become an award-winning carver of sport fish. His entire inventory is currently sold out. "I'm on back order," Wilson said. "I have a ton of fish to carve this summer."
The big one, however, was hooked by the hosts. "The party is starting for Canada," Bilodeau said. Frankly, they've seemed pretty happy to begin with, but perhaps we haven't seen anything yet.
Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and Olympic sports for ESPN.com. She can be reached at email@example.com.