Bilodeau upsets Begg-Smith in moguls
WEST VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Instead of talking about oh-fers, Canada can start the real Olympic celebration.
The host country is on the board with its first gold medal, thanks to the upset pulled off by Alexandre Bilodeau, who won the men's moguls Sunday night to finally become the first Canadian to win an Olympic title inside his own country's borders.
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Skis skidding across the slippery slush, head moving in rhythm with the bumps, Bilodeau showed all the speed, daring and borderline recklessness a skier must show to make history.
He tore down the course in 23.17 seconds and posted a score of 26.75. That was .17 points better than defending champion Dale Begg-Smith, a Vancouver native who now competes for Australia.
"I don't think I realize what's actually going on today and what's happening to me right now," Bilodeau said.
Bryon Wilson of the United States finished third, while teammate Michael Morse was 15th. Bilodeau nailed his winning run after Wilson. When the next and final skier, Guilbaut Colas of France, finished and had his sixth-place score flashed on the board, the Canadian crowd went crazy.
It has been nearly 34 years since the cauldron was first lit for the Summer Games in Montreal, and 22 since the last Canadian games in Calgary.
Now, the games are in Vancouver. And the land of the Maple Leaf has its moment.
It's a moment that will be played and replayed for the next two weeks and beyond -- one to be celebrated again come Monday, when Bilodeau receives that Olympic gold in a ceremony down in Vancouver and that song -- yes, 'O Canada,' will be piped into the medals plaza for everyone to hear.
The victory came about 24 hours later than many people thought it might -- on the very same moguls course where favorite Jenn Heil, a Canadian who trains daily with Bilodeau, settled for silver. That disappointment is history, and suddenly, Canada looks like the threat it hoped it would be at these Olympics.
"It's so big for Canada," said Bilodeau's coach, Dominick Gauthier. "Since the beginning and for Jenn yesterday, these games are all about Canada. Now the first gold is won. The media won't talk about it anymore. It's done."
Or maybe only starting.
The country started a program called "Own the Podium," and poured $110 million into it, with the goal of winning the medal count here at the Vancouver Games. Canada's first gold brings the medal count up to three -- still only half of what the leader, the United States, has won. But there's a lot of time left.
On a night made for raucous celebration -- red mittens thumping, little boys in the stands hugging their moms, even an Olympic volunteer standing on the course, post-race, waving a Canadian flag -- there was a poignant scene, as well: The one of Bilodeau's brother, Frederic, who suffers from cerebral palsy, cheering in a wheelchair near the bottom of the course behind the fence.
Bilodeau said his brother helped him keep things in perspective all these years, during which he has won a world championship, but was also stung by an 11th-place finish in Turin.
"Even if it's raining, I'll take it, I'll go train," Bilodeau said. "He doesn't have that chance, and he's having a smile every morning he wakes up."
Bilodeau wasn't leaving anything on the course for this one.
He crashed into the fence at the bottom, after he sped through the final bumps to finish a run that teetered precariously between control and chaos. He stayed up when it counted, though, and in the end, it was his risk-taking that made a difference.
He and Wilson were the only two men in the finals who dared try a back flip with two twists on the top jump. Begg-Smith has been dominating for years with less-difficult jumps; though he executed them cleanly, he lost because he was more than a half-second slower.
As usual, Begg-Smith kept a mysterious air about him afterward.
His Aussie handlers called the media in early so their star could answer questions quickly, and alone, on the podium. But Begg-Smith stood in the back corner, fiddling with his cell phone, waiting for members of the Aussie media -- the only ones he'll talk to -- to get to the tent.
An odd scene for the man who disowned his home country and moved to Australia because it fit in better with his business schedule. He reportedly owns an Internet company and is a multimillionaire, which allows him to ski on the side.
He was gracious in answering the few questions he fielded.
"I think it was great that Canada won gold and the crowd was really happy with it and everybody went crazy," Begg-Smith said. "We're out there to put on a show. Obviously everybody enjoyed what they saw and were really happy with the outcome of it."
Begg-Smith's story turned out to be secondary -- as was the nice one Wilson has to tell.
He wasn't even a member of America's "A" team to start this season but earned a start in two World Cup events when a teammate got hurt and finished second in both.
That gave him an Olympic spot, and he took advantage by winning bronze.
"A year ago, I would've been just happy to make the Olympics, that was my first goal," Wilson said. "When I got down to the bottom, I saw the score, I hoped it would hold out and it did. And it was pretty amazing."
Bilodeau pretty much had a stranglehold on amazing on this night, though, one in which Canadian fans came to Cypress expecting an erstwhile countryman to win and ended up seeing the real thing.
A student of the Olympics, Bilodeau knows sometimes all it takes is one nice surprise to get the ball rolling.
"There are so many good goals to come," he said. "Canada is so strong right now. I'll be in the stands cheering them on. I'll have to try to keep a bit of my voice for them."
For that song at the medals ceremony, too.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.