He was sitting third Monday night after two preliminary runs marred by errors. Slight errors that still allowed him to advance to the final six racers, a remarkable three of them Canadians, but errors nonetheless. “Just have fun, it’s your last run. I mean I’ve worked hard for it. Enjoy.”
Third is a dangerous place to be in a sport that is both timed, and judged in jump technique and style. Judges like to leave marks on the table in case the final racers, there because they have the top preliminary scores, come up huge.
So a minute before he launched off the precipice of the 28-degree incline of bumps and jumps, Bilodeau, 26, and retiring after this world cup season, knew he needed the run of his life. The kind of run where you either end up first, or you crash and burn. High risk. High reward. “I just left, and went for it. It could have gone the other side but on the way down and when I crossed the finish line, I knew that was all I could give.”
It was enough to leave the gold medal out of reach for teammates Marc-Antoine Gagnon and Mikael Kingsbury, who skied after him.
Kingsbury, the 21-year-old future of the sport in, Bilodeau’s view, finished second. Gagnon was bumped to fourth by a spirited descent that earned Russian ace Alexandr Smyshlyaev a bronze medal, as chants of “Russ-eee-yeah!” rained down from his countrymen and women in the crowd.
Smyshlyaev’s bronze foiled the delicious possibility of a full Canadian podium sweep, but Gagnon graciously accepted his fourth-place fate, knowing, at 22, and part of a stellar Quebec-based moguls program, he has youth and opportunity on his side.
Much has been made of the rivalry between Kingsbury, the brash up-and-comer, and Bilodeau, who in Vancouver four years ago, famously won the first ever Olympic gold medal earned by a Canadian on home soil. But Monday, high in the mountains at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, they were brothers in arms.
Bilodeau credited Kingsbury for pushing him to heights he never thought possible. They two men frequently train together and until a recent run of World Cup victories, Kingsbury has been beating Bilodeau for top spot on the podium.
“I’ve dreamed about laying down a run like that,” Bilodeau said in announcing his pending retirement. “I know that guy can deliver a better run than me. He’s got more talent, but I’ve put the pressure on him.”
Kingsbury was equally gracious, calling Bilodeau both an inspiration and a motivation to get better. They may not be close friends, but their rivalry, they both realize, has made them better athletes, and better men.
When Kingsbury was about 11 years old, he drew the Olympic rings and his goal: “I will win,” and posted it in his bedroom. “It’s on the ceiling,” he says, “so when I sleep, I will watch it.”
His biggest rival will soon leave the field, but no one doubts Kingsbury is a worthy successor. He keeps his eyes on the prize, even when he sleeps.