Bilodeau wins gold, breaks Canada's home-turf curse

'The party is just getting started'

Alexandre Bilodeau, 22, calls 26-year-old Jennifer Heil his big sister. On Sunday night at Cypress Mountain it was little brother’s turn for Olympic glory.

Bilodeau scorched down the Olympic moguls course in 23.17 seconds to snatch the gold medal from a tough field of contenders—to win, finally, Canada’s first ever Olympic gold on Canadian soil before 8,269 delirious fans.

“There’s so many golds to come,” an exuberant Bilodeau said moments later. “The party is just getting started.”

And indeed it was. The Molson was flowing at the West Vancouver site before, and certainly afterwards. And crowds erupted at celebration sites across Vancouver, and most certainly in his home province of Quebec.

Bilodeau, who skied second-last, leapt up from his seat in the waiting area after the score came in on the final run by Guilbaut Colas of France. At that point, he knew he had nailed a piece of Canadian history. He bowed to the crowd, and later wrapped himself in a Canadian flag, his face a picture of pure joy.

“I don’t think I actually realize what is going on today and what’s happening to me right now,” he said later in French. “What I’m pretty sure of is I was lucky enough to belong to history. But I always come back to this: we came as a team and we’re going to leave as a team.”

As emotional as he was, it took a mention of his 29-year-old brother Frederic to bring tears to his eyes. Frederic, standing with the rest of his family, screamed encouragement and waved his hands during his younger brother’s run. Alexandre has often cited his brother, who has cerebral palsy, as his daily inspiration.

It is impossible to complain about long hours of training when he thinks of his brother, he said later. “He has all the right to complain and he never does,” he says. “It puts everything back into perspective.”

Bilodeau’s run came a day after Heil, a gold medalist in Turin, won silver behind American Hannah Kearney to win Canada’s first medal of the Games. Heil wasn’t able to watch her friend race. She had a previous engagement: the medal presentation at B.C. Place stadium. But Bilodeau paid tribute to his friend. “You learn from the best and Jenn is the best,” he said. “Nobody can take that off of her, she’s an Olympic champion.”

Standing on the podium, in stark contract to Bilodeau, was the sombre second-place finisher Dale Begg-Smith, who grew up in West Vancouver and Whistler, but who raced for Australia, after leaving Canada to train. Begg-Smith, who won the event in Turin four years ago, looked as though someone had run over his puppy.

Begg-Smith, an independently wealthy Internet entrepreneur, has had a testy relationship with both Australian and Canadian news media. He has said in the past he has no regrets about leaving Canada since he had far better opportunities to train in Australia. Although he was subdued at the post-event press conference, he did salute the largely Canadian crowd for their generosity to all athletes. “I think it was great that Canada won gold.”

Bilodeau gave a salute to his coach Dominick Gauthier, who also coaches Heil, and who even trained Begg-Smith when he was a boy skiing in Whistler. “He’s a great coach, he gives everything he can to what he does.”

Gauthier has said Bilodeau was loose and relaxed during the final weeks of training, and was busy in off-hours organizing activities for the team. Those included a game of golf and his first attempt at curling.

“I’ve got way more respect for those guys in curling,” Bilodeau said. “It’s really hard.”